|Vol. 5, No. 2, Mar. - Apr. 1976
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
THE PERFECT LAW OF LIBERTY
(Messages from the Sermon on the Mount)
2. THE BLESSINGS (Matthew 5:3-10)
J. Alec Motyer
WE now consider the Beatitudes. The word 'beatitude' somehow does not
warm my heart; it sounds very much like an ecclesiastical deep-freeze. Perhaps
it would be better just to use the word 'blessing'. In our first study we
followed out the parallel on which Matthew seems to have constructed the
opening chapters of his Gospel, and we traced the course of the Lord Jesus
as the true Son of God, from Egypt to the waters of baptism, then through
the testing in which the reality of His righteousness was tried and borne
out, and so to the mountain. So we saw that Jesus came to this mountain of
instruction as the perfectly righteous Man, the One who has the right to declare
the Law of Righteousness to us. Then we traced back again into the opening
four chapters of Matthew and discerned that there Jesus is presented as the
royal Son of David, as the Son of Abraham in whom the universal promise of
blessing is vested, and as God with us. So the Lord Jesus came to the mountain
of instruction as the royal giver of blessing and as God come down to teach
One upshot of this pattern is that we must speak of the mount from which
Jesus teaches us as the Mount Sinai of the New Testament. If it is right
to see Jesus as God come to the mount of instruction, then we must not shrink
from this element in the parallelism, we must recognise that we have here
the Mount Sinai of the New Testament. If we can accept this then I think
that we will not only have grasped an important view of the unity of Scripture,
but we will also have the correct background from which to perceive what
the Lord actually had to teach us.
Firstly, then, a word as to the place of the Law of God in the Bible.
When God commissioned Moses, and Moses was unready to undertake this great
task of bringing God's people out of Egypt, it was in response to Moses'
objection on the grounds of his unworthiness and inability that the Lord
replied to him: "Certainly I will be with thee, and this shall be the token
unto thee that I have sent thee: when thou hast brought forth the people
out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain" (Exodus 3:12). The
idea of a token or sign is used in the Old Testament in two senses: either
as a present persuader or as a future confirmation. And on this occasion
it was a sign which was to act as a future confirmation. It was as though
God said that something would come up in the future which would bring absolute
certainty to Moses that it was at His command that he had gone into Egypt,
and by His power and His presence that he had brought the people out. And
that future event, which would bring that assurance to him, was the fact that
they would come back to that very mountain and worship God there.
We see, therefore, that Mount Sinai was no accident. It was in a very
deliberate sense the immediate goal for the people of God when they came
out of the land of Egypt. It was in the design of God to bring them from Egypt
to Sinai, that they might worship there, and that at the centre of their
worship there might, as ever, be the hearing of divine command. Now who were
they that came out of the land of Egypt? Who were these people whom the design
of God brought directly to Mount Sinai? They were those who had been redeemed
by the blood of the lamb. When God spoke, He spoke to a blood-bought people.
Mount Sinai was the place where God declared His law to such a people. They
had sheltered beneath the blood; the body of the lamb in the midst of their
houses was an evident token to them that a death had taken place, freeing
them from the curse of death, because one had died in their place. They had
fed upon the lamb to get strength for pilgrimage, and then went out through
the blood-stained door in the strength of that food to be pilgrims with their
God until they arrived at the place where He would speak His Law. In a nutshell,
that is the place of the Law of God in the Scriptures. The Law is not a ladder
by which the unsaved may try, and always fail, to get into glory: the Law
is the commanded life for a blood-bought people.
Notice two parallel verses, one in Leviticus and the other in Matthew
5. "The Lord spake unto Moses saying, Speak unto all the congregation of
the children of Israel, and say unto them, YOU [21/22]
shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy" (Leviticus 19:1-2).
That is why God spoke His Law to His redeemed people; that by obeying the
Law they might manifest the likeness of the God who had redeemed them. And
in Matthew 5:45, Jesus (commanding a manner of life which will be considered
in a later study) said: 'Do this ... that you may be the sons of your Father
who is in heaven. This is the way to manifest family membership; this is the
way to show outwardly that there is a heavenly Father's life animating you.'
And He brought the whole of this great section of teaching to rest on the
verse: "You shall be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew
5:48). The place of the Law in the Bible is that it is the divinely authorised
pattern of life for a blood-bought people. And this is implicit in the statement:
"When he had sat down his disciples came to him ...". The precious
Blood had not yet been shed but, as we come back to the Scriptures and see
everything through the viewing-glass of Calvary, we know that a man is a
disciple by being one of the blood-bought.
Secondly, by way of introduction, we note the promise aspect of Law in
the Bible. One of the greatest dangers into which we, as New Testament believers,
can fall is to see the Old Testament as peopled by the Pharisees of the New
Testament, and therefore to look back into the Old Testament through the
spectrum of the Pharisees. Now to Jesus the Pharisees were a plant which the
heavenly Father had not planted, so we must not see God's people of Old Testament
times as if they had been forerunners of the New Testament Pharisees. If
we want to understand what it was like to be a member of the Old Testament
Church, the simplest thing to do is to turn to the Psalms, for there we have
window after window into the experience of Old Testament believers. We find
a characteristic approach with the opening of that book, for the psalmist
cries: "Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked
... but his delight is in the law of the Lord" (Psalm 1:1). The Law
of the Lord, then, is a blessing. To be under the blessing of God means
to be in the enjoyment of spiritual well-being and to have one's life set
on the right course. The key to this blessing, and to the enjoyment of spiritual
well-being, is this life which is set on course by the Law of the Lord.
"Whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law does he meditate
day and night", consequently he is like a tree planted by streams of water.
This is the flourishing life, because it is the obedient life, the life which
rests upon the Law which God gave in His design to make people into the image
of their gracious Law Giver.
Here are two other verses in the Psalms which are thrilling in their
content. First there is the characteristic of the Old Testament believer:
"Oh, how I love thy law; it is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119:97)
and then his claim: "I Will walk at liberty because I have sought thy precepts"
(Psalm 119:45). This claim may well astonish us. What an amazing thing that
when I tie myself down to obedience, I discover that I walk at liberty!
I have discovered a law which liberates -- the Law of God. It brings in
spiritual well-being and personal fulfilment; it is the perfect law of liberty.
How right then to receive it from our Lord Jesus seated upon Mount Sinai,
because Mount Sinai is the place where God declares a pattern of life for
a blood-bought people. It is the place where He declares a Law in which
the people of God may delight, and in which they will find spiritual and
One third, and very brief, comment before we launch in on this teaching,
and it is that before we come to look at these teachings of Jesus, we need
to receive them as a call to the obedience of faith. The Law of God
ever calls people to an obedience which rests upon faith. Faith, for at first
sight these things which Jesus promises with His commands do not seem to
be true. "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted." As a
general truth, that is simply not correct. "Blessed are the meek, for they
shall inherit the earth" -- just put like that, it is not true. "Blessed are
the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." In the experience of men this
so often is not the case. Not only do these sayings of Jesus bring before
us things which make us blink and protest that life is not like that, but
they offer us promised benefits which cannot be weighed or measured. The advantages
which they offer cannot be measured tangibly and can only be of any worth
if God keeps His word and makes them good. For example: "the kingdom of heaven"
is an intangible benefit which is meaningless apart from the eye of faith.
So it is that the summons of the Law of God, both in the Old Testament and
here in the New, is to that obedience which rests upon and arises from faith.
The whole setting of the Sermon calls us to obey. It is the voice of the
righteous Man. It is the voice of the true God. And it calls us not only
to obey but to believe. On the basis of the obedience which is due to Him,
both [22/23] as righteous Man and as true God, Jesus
summons us to live by a supernatural code; and if we thus respond to Him
in the obedience of faith we are assured that we may expect supernatural benefits.
Verses 3 and 10
As we consider these first ten verses and their blessings we find that
verses 3 and 10 hang together and must be so considered. This is so because
they have an identical explanation attached to them, for in each case the
result of obedience and endurance is marked by: "their's is the kingdom
of heaven". This was the kingdom which Jesus brought in. John the Baptist,
looking forward to Jesus, said: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at
hand". The kingdom of heaven is the enjoyment of all the rights and realities
of Christian citizenship both as we experience them now in this world and
as we expect to enjoy them fully in the world to come. "Our citizenship
is in heaven, from whence also we expect the Saviour ..." -- that is the
kingdom of heaven. It is really the sum total of all the blessings which
result in our lives when the Lord is King. When Jesus commented: "How hardly
shall they that are rich enter the kingdom!" the disciples replied in astonishment:
"Who then can be saved?" (Matthew 19:23 & 25). So "the kingdom" and "salvation"
are identical concepts. Notice that these two verses (3 and 10) are different
from those which lie in between, because they speak of the present possession
of benefit rather than the future prospect of it. Both verses deal in the
present tense -- "their's is the kingdom", whereas in verses 4 to
9 without exception we are looking forward to promised blessings -- "they
shall be comforted", "they shall inherit ...". Quite clearly,
therefore, we can make an initial distinction in the happiness sayings by
noting that 3 and 10 belong together and ought to be considered together.
If we look more closely at these two verses we discover that verse 3
speaks of something that is inward: "Blessed are the poor in spirit" for
it is such a person who possesses the full reality of salvation. What poverty
of spirit is this? It is the awareness of our own spiritual wretchedness
and utter dependence upon God. When Jesus Himself began His preaching, He
said: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17). The way
to be ready for the kingdom, and therefore the way to become a kingdom-member
when it dawns, is the way of repentance, an acknowledgement of inward and
spiritual wretchedness, an acknowledgement of dependence on God. The word
translated 'poor', does not speak so much of penury as of beggary, and therefore
of dependence and pleading. This is the attitude which Jesus encourages us
to have. 'Blessed are those who know that in spiritual things they have nothing
and must beg all, for this is the attitude which brings the full reality of
citizenship in the kingdom and the full reality of salvation.'
Correspondingly, however, verse 10 deals with that which is outward:
"Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness's sake". This
is an obvious circumstance of life. Looking at a man's life, it is not always
possible to discern what is his inward condition in the realm of the spirit,
but it is always possible to perceive any hardship in his circumstances.
So in these two verses we have contrasting elements. On the one hand there
is, in the member of the kingdom, an inward reality, a recognition of spiritual
beggary and dependence, but on the other hand there is an outward reality,
namely that this kingdom member who lives in the possession of full salvation
is experiencing hostility and persecution. In this connection the words
of Jesus are so brief that we may need to bring in other Scriptures to help
us, such as the apostle's reminder that anyone who would live godly in Christ
Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). Not that the Christian should
go out of his way to invite opposition, thinking that at all costs he must
get this mark of reality into his life. Oh no, but speaking in general terms,
when a person sets himself in the way of righteousness, he sets himself in
a way that will be opposed.
Here then are the two great marks of the member of the kingdom -- the
inward reality of humble dependence and the outward reality of the kind of
righteousness which brings opposition and persecution from the world. This
provides us with a wrapping around the rest of the happinesses -- a bracket
at one end and a closing bracket at the other -- and gives us an important
lesson to learn. We noted in our previous study that Matthew brings before
us the finished teaching work of the Lord Jesus. And it would seem that
He split up this first pair, putting one half at the beginning and the other
half at the end, in order to indicate to us that here is a total view of
life. He can bracket it around; He can wrap it up and parcel it, for there
is nothing more to be stated. It is as if He said: 'See, I have rounded it
off: this is a total view of life'. In addition to this, however, the two
sayings, one pointing inwardly and the other [23/24]
outwardly, seem to me to provide a clue by which we may now begin to understand
verses 4 to 9. So we will take them in pairs and see how it works out.
Verses 4 and 5
"Blessed are they that mourn ..." and "Blessed are the meek ..." (verses
4 and 5) also provide an inward and an outward aspect of life; those who
mourn before God are meek before men. Jesus is starting at the beginning once
more. There is very little difference between being poor in spirit and mourning.
The Lord Jesus starts right at the beginning; here is the primary reality
of the person who wishes to live with God, here is the primary clue to happiness.
I have already said that the word 'blessed' speaks of the person under the
enriching blessing of God, enjoying spiritual wellbeing, because his life
is set in the direction which God has appointed, and now we note that the
primary direction of life under that blessing is the direction of mourning
before God. The Scriptures abound in promises that those who mourn within
the reality of kingdom membership will be comforted of their God.
There is the text that Jesus took for His first sermon: "The Spirit of
the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings
to the meek; He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty
to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to
proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord ..." (Isaiah 61:1-2). The Lord Jesus
stopped at this point, for the next phrase: "the day of vengeance of our
God", is a period which in the divine economy is postponed until the Second
Coming. Had He proceeded, however, He would have read: "... to comfort all
that mourn". If we follow on to verse 3 we discover a beautiful expansion
of this idea of comforting the mourning in a three-fold provision: "To give
them a garland for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise
for the spirit of heaviness". 'Ashes' provide the sign of personal penitence,
an awareness of personal sin which brings a man to humble himself before his
God. 'Mourning' deals more with the matter of sorrows which come from outside
and press on the believing heart. 'Heaviness' or 'faintness' is the result
of the pressures of circumstances which would make him quail in the face
of the world. In all these three areas there is a mourning before God --
the awareness of personal sin; the awareness of the sorrows of the world;
and the sense of the weight of circumstances. The provision from God is to
give a garland instead of ashes, oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment
of praise instead of a spirit of faintness.
It is gloriously true that those who mourn within the kingdom will receive
divine comfort, but it is also true that those who so mourn before God must
be meek before men, for otherwise their mourning will lack reality. If such
a spirit is not going to overflow outwardly into meekness before men it will
have no substance. Jesus told a story of a man who owed his lord an impossible
debt and came mourning and humbling himself in order to be forgiven. Having
received free forgiveness he then went out and caught a fellow-servant by
the throat, demanding to be paid a paltry sum which this man owed him. His
fellow-servant quite rightly reported the matter to their lord, who had
the offender recalled and withdrew the grace which he had bestowed on him.
Then the Lord Jesus added a startling moral, saying: "So shall my heavenly
Father do to you if you do not from your heart forgive everyone his brother
from your hearts" (Matthew 18:35). Startling indeed! Does it mean that our
heavenly Father, the Father of our Lord Jesus, first gives mercy and then
takes it away? No, it cannot mean that. We must never let Scripture conflict
with Scripture. What then does it mean? Surely that our heavenly Father looks
upon us and says: 'I cannot give you the blessing of mercy because you are
not interested in mercy. I cannot make you enjoy mercy, for you do not seem
to know what mercy is, and you cannot ask for what you know nothing of.' Those
who mourn before God will be meek before men. There will be an overflowing
outwardly into relationships with others of the same blessings which they
are discovering by their lowliness and humiliation before God; the blessing
will colour and characterise the way in which they behave before others.
Verses 6 and 7
"Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness ..." and
"Blessed are the merciful ..." (verses 6 and 7), are also closely linked
together. Those who know God's bountiful provision will practice bounty.
Those who know God's generosity will extend generosity. The promise is to
the hungry that they will be filled. The Greek there is an unpleasant word,
it occurs in the Book [24/25] of Revelation with reference
to the birds of prey which 'gorge themselves' on the fat of the slain. It
does not, therefore, indicate a mini-repast, a snack of elevenses, spiritually
speaking, but it promises a complete banquet, as though it said: 'Blessed
are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness for they will be feasted'.
But if God is so bountifully providing for their hunger, can they withhold
from the hungry among their fellows?
In His promise to give the fullness, the Lord Jesus observes a very interesting
and Scriptural order of things. In many ways it would come more naturally
to us to tell God that if only He will grant us His fullness then we will
respond with all the proper spiritual manifestations. None will be more intent
upon righteousness than we, we think, if only we are granted this blessing
of spiritual fullness. So often, as believers, we want the blessing first
and expect the manifestation of the Christian graces to follow. The Scriptures
will not allow that. The commandment of Jesus is, by implication: 'You act
along the line of spiritual hunger and thirst, and you will find a God who
comes to meet you with a prepared feast.' Don't let the word 'righteousness'
put you off. I have often suggested that it clarifies our understanding of
that word if we substitute for it the phrase, 'That which is right before
God', which is the basic meaning all through the Bible. 'Blessed are they
who hunger and thirst for that which is right with God', wanting all that
is pleasing to Him, perfect conformity to His will. Jesus says that there
is great happiness for the person who longs and longs to be perfectly conformed
to the will of God, because that person will be provided with a divine feast.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy." Once again we
find things placed in their correct order. How easy it would be to say to
God: 'If only You will shower mercy upon me, then I will manifest all correct
Christ-likeness towards other people'. But the Word of God shows that this
is the wrong way round -- the Holy Spirit is given to them who obey Him (Acts
5:32). The word 'mercy' is used in two settings in our Bibles. It is used
in relation to guilt, and it is used in relation to want. In relation to guilt,
mercy is the opposite of resentment and revenge; it is a readiness to forgive
and pardon. In relation to want or misery, mercy is the opposite of insensitivity;
it is a readiness to relieve, a readiness to prevent suffering and to show
compassion. And the call of Jesus is: 'You are receiving in your need, in
your hunger and thirst, receiving bountifully from the hand of God, so there
must be an outward reality which corresponds to this experience. Where there
are those who have offended you, forgive them freely and without resentment.
Where there are those who look to you in their need, let your hand be open
to them in a generosity which is like the generosity of your heavenly Father.
Those who know God's bountiful provision practice generosity.
Verses 8 and 9
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (verse 8) and
"Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the sons of God"
(verse 9). Once again the inner first, followed by the outer -- the two matching
sides of Christian experience, so that the inner is proved to be real because
it has an outward counterpart. Those who are at peace with God seek to bring
peace to men. Purity of heart is a basic kingdom possession. The children
of God are those who have been 'sprinkled' from an evil conscience (Hebrews
10:22), that is, they possess a basic reality of purity of heart which is
granted to them through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. The double-minded
man need expect nothing from God (James 1:8). The man who is looking at
God with one eye and at the world with the other eye, the man who is mouthing
professions of faith but not living in the obedience of faith, lacks singleness
and purity of heart. Without holiness, says the Scripture, no man shall
see the Lord. This holiness is the progressive experience of the believer
as he is changed by looking away to the Lord, changed from glory to glory
by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18). Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God. They have a purity which is granted to them by the
blood of Christ, which weds them to God and makes them acceptable to His
presence with open vision of Himself.
But if that is so, if the pure in heart are living in the good of a vision
of God, then clearly they will want to share this vision with those around
them and so earn the blessing of being peace-makers who shall be called the
sons of God. Of course they will! For what is the central reality of our
God? It is that He is a God who makes peace with sinners. If we pause to
enquire as to the first revelation of the Holy Trinity in the New Testament
we find that the answer is at the moment when Jesus stepped into the waters
of Jordan and stood with John, happy to be identified [25/26]
with sinners. The heavens were opened; the voice of the Father nominated
the Son; and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in visible form like a dove.
You see, this business of identifying, reconciling and saving sinners lies
at the very heart of God. He chose that moment to declare fully and finally
His eternal nature. He is the peace-making God, and therefore those who are
moving outwardly to other people in peace-making tasks are manifesting in
fact that the nature of their heavenly Father is animating their lives. They
will be making peace in the basic sense of sharing the gospel, but also
they will be making peace in every sense. They will be unwilling to see
any sort of tension or disagreement or falling out in the local church, and
they will be there as peace-makers because that is what God has been to
them. And the more they live in the reality of peace with God, the more intent
they will be upon bringing to pass the corresponding outward reality of
peace among men.
See, then, how this double-sided life works out. It is progressive. It
is a life of repentance, recognition of and sorrow for sin -- it is a life
of mourning (v.4). But if repentance is real, this will issue in spiritual
aspiration and a longing to be better -- hence the hunger and thirst after
righteousness (v.6). And spiritual aspiration, as it works out, will lead
to an ever progressive closeness to God -- blessed are the pure in heart,
for they shall see God (v.8). So we have the three verses about inward reality,
each leading up to the next. The real test of the life, however, is that
it is flowing over and making a different outward relationship with other
people. It is inward but it also satisfies the test of being outward too.
So we come to the three verses which deal with this outward side. "Blessed
are the meek" (v.5). It shows in a total acceptance of what people do to
us. It shows in a gracious, non-retaliatory spirit. In the second place it
shows in the outreaching of generosity to them in their need, so that even
if they heap reproach upon us, we will heap benefits in return upon them
in generosity (v.7). And thirdly it will mean a sharing of peace (v.9), a
sharing of the gospel. And if it is true that verses 4, 6 and 8 represent
a true order of things which cannot be reversed, for each leads on to the
next, it is also the case that again we have an order which cannot be reversed,
namely meekness, then generosity and then the sharing of the gospel. It is
in fact when people see in us this overflow outwardly of a life with God
that we will have purchased the chance to share with them the wonderful peace
of the gospel.
As you search the Scriptures, search also your hearts. This life is the
life of blessing and of total personal well-being -- the right life -- because
it is the life of Jesus. He was able to say of Himself that He was meek and
lowly of heart; His meat, the thing He longed for, was to do His Father's
will; and He ascended to the Father in total unbroken communion. He, too,
was non-retaliatory. To the undeserving He brought a rich bounty of His own
goodness and generosity to the needy, and did it to the point where He gave
Himself upon the Cross, and so made peace. Jesus does not call us to any
external fulfilment of a legal code. He it is who has written Himself down
on paper and then asks us: 'Well, do you want to be like Me, or do you not?'
Reading: Romans 16
THIS is a chapter which I expect you do not often read. The letter proper
seems to end with the "Amen" of 15:33, and it is easy to regard the final
chapter as of little importance. But even though it may be a struggle to
read it, I suggest that the effort is well worth making. Like some of the
Old Testament chapters devoted to names and genealogies, this should not be
skipped as irrelevant, for these are included by divine inspiration and with
Two preliminary observations may be of interest. The first is that the
list of names here is so comprehensive that it might almost be called universal.
Roman names are in the minority, being outnumbered by the Jewish and Greek
ones, yet taken together they represent the world of their time. This was
not a Latin church, a Jewish church nor a Greek church, but a true representation
of that Church which is composed of men from every nation.
The other point is that this is one of the two churches which Paul had
never visited, the other being Colosse. Paul had yet to go to Rome, which
he later did, but that was some time later. Even at this juncture, however,
there were quite a few people whom he already knew personally and even intimately.
This is more than a mere item of interest. It seems to indicate something
of how in those days the gospel spread abroad and the churches were built.
For one reason or another, for business purposes or by political compulsion,
people had to move about in the world. This may have been inconvenient and
at times most unjust, but behind that movement was the sovereignty of God,
using everything for the speeding up of the work of the gospel.
This gives us encouragement, then, to know that once our lives are wholly
given over to the Lord, His sovereignty will govern and overrule all the
ordinary affairs and circumstances of daily life and make them contribute
to His purposes and glory. Take the cruel decree of the Emperor Claudius which
expelled all Jews from Rome. Whether he was following some political scheme
or simply venting his spite, the fact remains that people like Aquila and
Priscilla had to abandon their home and business and become displaced persons
in Corinth. This, however, not only brought them into contact with Paul but
later, at Ephesus, made them such a great help to Apollos and gave them an
honoured place in this list which we are considering. Their case opens up
to us a world within a world, and it is a world of spiritual romance. If
we could pass from one of the names of this chapter to another, we would doubtless
find that in each case there were marvellous evidences of God's sovereign
working, even at times before those concerned were actually converted to
Christ. Some have even thought that the fact of there being saints in the
Praetorian guard (Philippians 4:22) suggests that the centurion who stood
by the cross at Calvary went back from his foreign service in Palestine to
his headquarters in Rome and there witnessed to the Saviour. This may be
only imagination, but it is at least possible, and just the kind of way in
which Christ is always building His Church.
WHAT is more, when we look more deeply into this chapter we find that
the people here referred to not only had their lives overruled by God but
were themselves intent on the Lord's business and ready to take responsibility
for His interests. They were not passengers, just people who happened to
come and go, individuals in the crowd; they each got involved to the utmost
in the affairs of the kingdom of Christ. Paul's comments and allusions make
it clear that the gospel was furthered and the churches established because
these men and women put the Lord's interests before everything else in their
work, their journeys and their circumstances. They had the urge of the divine
imperative. Like their Lord before them, their lives were not at the mercy
of chance but characterised by the word 'must'.
The Lord Jesus used this imperative when, at twelve years of age, He
told Mary that He must be about His Father's business. From time
to time this same spirit emerged in His conduct: "I must preach the
good tidings of the kingdom of God to other cities also" (Luke 4:43); "other
sheep I have ... them also I must bring ..." (John 10:16). Then, as
He moved towards the end of His ministry, He announced that He, the Son of
man: "must be delivered up into the hands of sinful men ..." (Luke
24:7), and right on to the eve of His crucifixion, He behaved in accordance
with His principle that, since the Scriptures foretold it, then "thus it
must be" (Matthew 26:54). His whole life was governed by this imperative
-- must! must! It seems to me that this list brings before us disciples whose
lives were also characterised by this imperative, this 'must'. For them this
was the priority, the only consideration worthy of their attention; they were
devoted to the will of God. It is to be regretted that so many names which
can rightfully be included in the list of God's children cannot truly be
described in this way. There seem to be so many passengers, so many who want
to enjoy God's will but seek to avoid taking responsibility for it. Their
lives lack the Christlike, 'must'.
THIS, of course, presents a personal challenge to me. I wonder what Paul
would have written against my name if I had lived in those days and been
associated with him. If he had needed to write a salutation to me, what could
he have said about the quality of my life, 'in Christ'? The phrase 'in Christ'
is repeated eight times here, for you notice that this is the significance
of the names listed, not what the people were in themselves, but what was
their spiritual measure in Christ. The apostle had no thoughts of social niceties
or of paying compliments to ensure good relations. No, what mattered to him
was the [27/28] measure in which these friends of
his were counting for Christ. What, I wonder, can be put alongside my name
in this connection?
At the end we are told not only of the book of life, but also of personal
histories -- "the books were opened" (Revelation 20:12). May it be that these
books represent God's evaluation of men's lives? If so, what will be the
eternal verdict of my life? What will the books have to say of my response
to divine imperatives? Thank God that all my sins are blotted out. By the
wonder-working power of the Blood of Christ there can be no accusation against
me. And there will be no record of the purely personal virtues or failings
which during this life assume such great importance. No, what will be eternally
recorded will surely be what is true of us, 'in Christ'. So the reading of
this heartening list of Paul's friends challenges us as to how much our lives
are really counting for God. We know the story of these disciples. We know
also the regrettable comments which Paul had to make about others of his
former colleagues, men like Demas who seems to have shrugged aside divine
imperatives and taken his own course. What will history -- God's history
-- say about me? What will be my story, 'in Christ'?
Nothing seems to be forgotten. Phoebe's kindliness, Aquila and Priscilla's
self-sacrifice, the labours of this one and the hospitality of that -- even
the writing of the letter 'in the Lord', by Tertius (see margin of verse
22). Every aspect of devotion to Christ in these lives was noted and appreciated,
even the humblest service finding its place in the inspired Scriptures.
ONE more feature of this chapter is the fact that people are appreciated,
as people. The letter itself is a masterpiece of spiritual instruction, so
profound that it has engaged and defeated the greatest brains in the Church,
and still remains far from exhausted in its wealth. In a sense this was
Paul's magnum opus, his supreme exposition of the infinite range of
redemption. The more striking, then, that place should be given for the names
of these simple people. It means that the apostle, with all the divine wisdom
and revelation given to him, was more concerned with persons than with truths.
Doctrines can be considered and held in a detached way, but what value is
there in abstract truths if they are not expressed in terms of individual
Great as was the ministry and spiritual significance of this notable
apostle, he was clearly a man who took real interest in people. He remembered
their names, he recorded their special features, he gave thanks for them,
and he prayed for them individually. How easy it is for the servants of
the Lord to become so absorbed in their ministry and so pre-occupied with
their messages, that they neglect the very individuals to whom the messages
are directed. When a man or a woman is led to trust in Christ he does not
become one more cipher for statistics, but a live personality who matters
to God and should matter to God's servants. And they matter not just as
those who must be given instruction as to Christian doctrines, but as individuals
in whom those spiritual truths should find outworking and expression. For
the apostle, truth had to be incarnate, it had to be personified -- and these
names show that it was.
Why was Paul so lovingly drawn out to these people? Perhaps because he
could observe the fulfilment in them of the revelation given to him of the
power of the gospel of Christ. It must have been refreshing to pass from
his exposition of the theory of redemption to the living outworking of his
doctrines. So it is that I ask myself what fruit there is in my own life
from the volumes of teaching which I know and communicate in my preaching.
Are God's people being helped, are they being made better servants of Christ
because of my kindliness or self-sacrificial labours? If not, then in my
case all that Paul wrote and all that I teach goes for nothing.
In the case of many of these people, it was Paul's own life which had
been enriched by them, as he readily acknowledged. Phoebe had succoured him,
Priscilla and Aquila had "laid down their own necks" for him, Rufus's mother
had cared for him and Tertius wrote for him. None of these were apostles,
yet by helping Paul they contributed something, however small, to an apostolic
ministry. They could not do it all, and nor could he; but the whole divine
purpose could be realised because a number of people played their part, labouring
in Christ and for Christ. People matter! Nobody is a nonentity in Christ.
There is a place for each one of us in the divine record. And we shall be
glad to finish the chapter as Paul did: "to the only wise God, through Jesus
Christ, ... be the glory for ever. Amen". [28/29]
THE MINOR PROPHETS
9 and 10. ZEPHANIAH and HAGGAI
John H. Paterson
TWICE before in this series of studies on the Minor Prophets we have
noted the importance of considering two of the twelve prophets together,
in order to obtain a balanced view of the character of God. Amos's presentation
of Him as a God of justice is balanced by Obadiah's emphasis that He is
a God of faithfulness. Nahum's view of Him as a God of perfect consistency
is complemented by Habakkuk's message that He is a God of glory; that even
when it appears as if He is being inconsistent, the reality is quite otherwise,
for the "eyes of His glory" miss nothing, but take account of all that occurs,
and in due course His glory will be revealed.
With Zephaniah and Haggai we come to yet another pair -- or, to be exact,
another paradox. For these two prophets remind us that, on the one hand,
God is a God of mighty action and, on the other, that He is a God
How can there be peace and tremendous activity at one and the same time;
on the part of one and the same Being? With God, this is only one of the
many paradoxes that form part of His greatness, but that it is indeed such
a part we cannot doubt. Nor is the paradox referred to only by the Minor Prophets.
Consider, for example, the farewell prayer of the writer to the Hebrews (13:20-21):
"Now the God of peace, who brought again from the dead ... our Lord Jesus,
make you perfect in every good work to do his will". What a mighty act He
has already performed: He has brought the Lord Jesus back from the dead!
And how tremendous the programme of action to which He has committed Himself,
and which still lies before Him: to make His children -- to make us -- perfect
in every good work! Yet all the while He is a God of peace.
The Message of Zephaniah
The prophetic messages of Zephaniah are addressed to a number of different
recipients -- Judah, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Nineveh -- but their common
characteristic is their emphasis on the activity of God; on what He
is about to do. At a rough count, the three chapters of the prophecy contain
some three dozen direct references to the activities of God: "I will consume
... cut off ... punish ... search ... destroy ... deal with ... bring back
...". For each of these groups, to whom He sent His messenger, God planned
a course of action; none of them would escape.
Yet is was a measure of their miscalculation about Him that in Jerusalem
of all places -- in the city of all cities where there should have existed
an understanding of God and His ways -- there were people reassuring themselves
that nothing was going to happen: "the Lord will not do good, neither will
He do evil" (1:12). They had convinced themselves that, whatever they
did, He could be relied upon to remain inactive. If that was the
impression which they formed of Him in Jerusalem, it was small wonder that,
in a heathen city like Nineveh, the general attitude was: "I am, and there
is none else beside me" (2:15). Neither the people of God nor the heathen
expected that He would interrupt their heedless lives by actually doing
something. And so God's people in Jerusalem had been overtaken by a kind
of moral and spiritual 'middle-aged spread' (1:12); they had settled, or
thickened, upon their lees. The last thing they were prepared for was for
God to go into sovereign and ruthless action amongst them, but that is exactly
what He promised: "I will search Jerusalem with candles".
Before we judge them too harshly, we should perhaps do well to remind
ourselves that settling down -- this spiritual middle-aged spread -- is a
temptation to which we are all prone. When we are young and God is at work
in our lives, it seems as if every day brings some new experience, and generally
we welcome this; every action on His part provides us with additional evidence
that He is real, and that He has a purpose for us. We gladly accept the role
of pilgrims in search of a city with foundations; gladly we ask Him to lead
us wherever He wills. But later on, we become less sure. With material ties,
and family responsibilities to attend to; with a growing desire for a quiet
life and freedom from disruption within our personal world, we not only may
cease to welcome the action of God -- we may come to fear or resent it. At
that point, we have 'settled upon our lees'. [29/30]
Zephaniah brings to us all the reminder that God made this creation,
and the creatures in it, as a stage for His own actions: He has something
to achieve. Far from resenting His interference with our own tranquil lives,
we should rejoice in the realisation that the goal of His action towards mankind
is a goal of salvation: "The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is
mighty; He will save ..." (3:17). Without His action there could be
no salvation. Therefore our attitude to those mighty actions of grace must
be not of resentment or indifference but of humble acceptance. Confronted
by His actions, says Zephaniah, we should seek righteousness and meekness
, or humility (2:3). The apostle Peter, a man with a very personal experience
of the actions of God in transforming his life, offers identical advice:
"Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he
may exalt you ..." (1 Peter 5:6).
The Message of Haggai
So the wise course for the believer is to do nothing, but to remain submissive
while God acts? 'Yes,' answers Zephaniah. 'No,' says Haggai. There is a balance
to be struck.
In Haggai's days, the people of God were failing to act; specifically,
they were failing to get ahead with rebuilding the ruined Temple. So the
prophecy begins with a summons to action -- build the House! (1:8). They
had houses of their own, but God had none. He expected them to do something
The reason why they had not acted sooner is clear from the text. They
were telling each other that the time had not yet come for building (1:2
RSV), because they were faced by such material shortages, such poverty of
resources, that they could not possibly build anything worthy of Him. And
so they kept putting off the operation. What they had begun to build was
such a feeble substitute for the glorious Temple of the past that those who
could remember the old days wept at the contrast (2:3; cf. Ezra 3:12). It
was hopeless even to try to build something worthy of God.
It was Haggai's task to point out that these people had misunderstood
the mind of God on at least two counts. Firstly, they had failed to realise
what was the true source of glory in the House of God. They had imagined
that glory lay in the costliness or rarity of the materials; that the measure
of glory depended on the amount of gold -- no gold no glory. But history was
to demonstrate that this was a very false assumption. The Temple of Herod
contained plenty of gold, but the only thing the Lord Jesus had to say about
that house was that it was empty and desolate (Luke 13:35). In fact,
as Haggai pointed out, nothing that they could do could give to the
House the holiness which was its true and only glory. This was the whole point
of the question-and-answer dialogue detailed in 2:11-14. Man cannot transmit
holiness; no amount of activity can impart it.
All he can do is to transmit unholiness. The positive quality
of holiness which alone could make the House worthy of its Occupant was
not within the people's power to provide. And without it, the quality of
the other materials was largely irrelevant. If they delayed until they could
build glory into the House, then they would wait for ever. So God told them
to act; in due course, if they did so, He would provide the
We have become accustomed, in the sphere of industrial relations, to
the idea of a division of labour and its unhappy counterpart, the demarcation
dispute -- the argument over 'who does what'. In a sense God's controversy
with His people through the prophet Haggai was a demarcation dispute. The
people thought that they had to supply both the House and the glory and,
as they had no idea how to obtain the glory, they were not providing the House
either. But the glory was not their's to provide. In the 'division of labour'
only God could supply that.
The second ground of misunderstanding which Haggai was sent to correct
was the idea that God would prefer to wait for a magnificent House some
time in the future, rather than accept a modest one now. What they were
misjudging here was the strength of His desire to live amongst His people
and be at rest there. They had not realised that He actually wanted
to be with them, and that such a desire was in keeping with a long-standing
wish of God's, dating all the way back to the days of the first Tabernacle,
when He said: "Let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them"
Perhaps in this failure to understand God's wishes they were not too
different from their ancestors, for it had been only rare spirits among
them, like their great king, David, who had grasped [30/31]
this point: that God truly desired to be at rest among His people. He was
urging them on to activity, but only so that the end result might be a resting-place
among them, where He could be present, and to which He might bring peace (2:9).
Their history as a nation had been stormy. Their relationship with God had
seemed to involve them in one conflict after another. They had been a restless
people, so that peace at the end of it all was the greatest blessing they
could have desired. They had fallen into a premature kind of peace, the peace
of torpor -- they had stopped building. But unless and until the God of peace
came to live among them, they would never enjoy true rest. So the word went
out, through the prophet: you build, and then God will come and provide both
the glory and rest, for the God of peace has no other objective in
all His activity than to bring peace to His people, and to share in their
"And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying,
Behold the tabernacle of God is with men,
and he will dwell with them."
PREPARATIONS FOR THE KINGDOM
(Studies in 1 Samuel)
8. THE VICTORY OF FAITH (Chapter 17)
WE are grateful to be able to turn from the rejected king who failed,
to find help and encouragement from the true king, David. This article will
deal with one of the great features of God's kingdom, namely fighting faith.
We have seen how, after his anointing, David went back to the sheep, had his
first promotion in being received into Saul's court, and then had another
set-back when the king went off to his war with the Philistines, leaving
David to return to help on the family farm.
There, then, was the anointed of the Lord reduced to the homely task
of tending sheep. Unbelief will always question God's ways and even wonder
whether He is interested, but David's story shows that His wisdom and love
were in complete charge. This one shepherd lad is seen to stand out distinctively
from all the rest of God's people, not physically, as Saul did or even as
his imposing brothers, but spiritually. In a word he was a man of faith.
When Goliath appeared, this whole issue was precipitated and the thoughts
of many hearts revealed. Saul was the official king, but he was quite inadequate
to face this giant of an enemy. David's brothers may have appeared imposing
men to Samuel, but under this test they feared and trembled with the rest.
Those who are called to the kingdom must be men and women of faith. This chapter,
then, will repay careful consideration, for it shows us a man of faith in
Now there is a sense in which faith is a gift of God. I do not think
that this is the whole truth with regard to our salvation, for saving faith
is really the response which we make to God's constraining love and mercy.
In the list of spiritual gifts, however, we find that faith is given a place
(1 Corinthians 12:9). So faith is not just a natural effort. Had it been
so, Jonathan would probably have taken up Goliath's challenge, for he was
a real man of faith. He did not do so, not being given faith for it, since
he was not the man for that moment. God's clear call was to David; it was
the right time for him to exercise a spiritual gift. In this kind of situation
it is not a matter of summing up some inward courage and calling it 'faith',
but of knowing God's hand upon you. By His Holy Spirit He quickens faith in
your spirit, and you know that this is a specific matter for which you can
trust Him. This cannot be imitated, it cannot be manufactured; it really is
a free gift from God. A gift, however, which like all other gifts has to
be received and exercised.
AS a matter of fact David had been exercising such faith before ever
he came to the Vale of Elah to meet the public challenge there. Way back
at home, with nobody looking on, he had trusted God and been able to defeat
both a lion and a bear (v.37). To Saul he made no secret of the fact that
those personal victories were not due to his own prowess, but to the Lord:
'The Lord that delivered me then,' David asserted, 'is [31/32]
the One who will deliver me now,' not speaking in any way of boasting
but only of the quiet confidence that God would not fail him. Saul appreciated
this and wished David well: "Go, and the Lord be with you," he said, and
he might quite truthfully have added: 'As He used to be with me when I was
right with Him.'
It was those secret victories which mattered so much. I do not get the
impression that David's brothers cared very much about the sheep. I am not
at all sure that Jesse counted them. Had a lamb or two been missing, they
would not have asked any questions, and when it was saved they gave neither
thanks nor praise to him for his diligence and courage. This is how true
faith works. Nobody was looking. Nobody would have blamed him for holding
back. Nobody praised him for venturing out. But the man of faith can be trusted
to live as before God. This is how all true faith begins, not in the public
eye but in secret history with God. So it was in the case of our blessed
Lord who lived all those years in Nazareth, with no preaching and no miracles!
When He finally emerged from His long spiritual apprenticeship in the carpenter's
shop and went off to Jordan to be baptised, the verdict from heaven was
one of good pleasure. As yet He had done no public act; but He had trusted
and faithfully served the Father in the humdrum of the everyday.
In the case of David, however, as in the case of the Lord Jesus, this
private proving of God was setting the scene for the public conflict. David
did not have to agitate to get this opportunity; all he had to do was to
wait patiently for God and to be ready when the chance came. The incident
seemed unremarkable. Jesse just told him to leave the sheep with an assistant
and go on a message [an errand?] to his brothers at the front. God knew all
about Goliath, but David did not know and did not need to know. He had no
special message, no vision or intimation of the great event which was impending,
but only knew of an errand to be run and a duty discharged. So often this
is the case in the history of the man of faith. The call to him is for faithfulness.
It is not always possible in the Scriptures to know whether the word is used
for faith or faithfulness, and it is often impossible to discriminate between
the two. David was faithful to God and God was faithful to him. That was
See the marvellous timing which always characterises the history of God's
men. "And David ... came and saluted his brethren. And as he talked with
them, behold ..." (verses 22-23). That was just the moment when Goliath came
out and issued his challenge. David was precipitated into the whole affair.
He had neither planned nor expected this encounter but, in the words of the
psalmist: "The steps of a good man are ordered ... by the Lord". The brothers,
of course, could not recognise this. For their part they criticised David
and tried to get rid of him. To their unbelieving and jealous hearts the whole
thing was preposterous. In the last issue the man of faith must be prepared
for opposition, even from his brethren, for this is an intensely personal
DAVID'S reaction to the defiant challenge was typical of a Spirit-anointed
man. "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies
of the living God?" David was not jealous for the family name, not even for
his country, but for the name of his God. Twice more he repeated this concern
(verses 36 and 45). This is what matters: a zeal for the honour of God's
name. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He placed this first. For
those who want the kingdom to come there must first be the petition: "Hallowed
be thy name". David was a man who was able to pray for the kingdom to come
because his supreme concern was that no dishonour should come to God's name.
Oh, that such a spirit might be found among Christians today who are ready
enough to pray that the kingdom may soon come! What does our name matter?
What do other lesser names matter? What does loyalty to men or movements
matter? Our consuming passion should be one of loyalty to His name. This
is the basic motive for real faith.
I hesitate, as I well may, to include the Lord Jesus when I am discussing
men of faith; yet what can any of these do but point us away to Him, the
Author of all our faith? He it was who expressed the zeal for the Father's
name in perfection. As He stood under the shadow of the cross, He might easily
have prayed: "Father, save me from this hour". That is what we all tend to
pray, and it no doubt represents the kind of prayer that Saul and all the
Israelites might have been praying. The Lord, however, rejected any such
idea and made His petition: "Father, glorify thy name" (John 12:28). Immediately
a response came from heaven expressing the Father's approval of such a prayer.
Of course it meant that He who prayed could not at the same time ask to
be delivered [32/33] from that hour. He well knew
this as He made the Father's will the one concern of His life. And for David,
too, there could be no avoiding the confrontation with Goliath. As he burned
with zeal for the honour of God's name he had to be ready to pay the price
of his devotion.
David could hear the menacing roar of the giant; he was made aware of
all his frightening statistics, though he hardly needed to be told, for he
could see for himself the magnitude of his task. But these hardly seemed
to matter as, in complete self-forgetfulness, he offered himself as the champion
of God's honour. Saul accepted his offer, and even tried to assist by providing
his own battle equipment, his helmet of brass, his coat of mail and his
royal sword. David did not disdain the offer; his was not the brash conceit
which is sometimes called faith. The man of faith is not infallible. He
is not a spiritual know-all. So just as Samuel had been ready to anoint one
of his brothers, so he was quite ready to accept Saul's armour. He even put
it on and began to move out in it. But once again the man of the Spirit was
checked. Something inside him told him that it was not right. There was
nothing wrong with the armour, but it was Saul's and not his, so any attempt
to use it would have involved artificiality, and that is one thing that must
not be in the actions of the man of faith. For him every experience must
be original. He cannot borrow another man's experience of God. We cannot put
on Hudson Taylor's armour, or George Muller's, or anybody else's armour, but
we must use the weapons which God has given to us personally, even if, as
in David's case, they seem pitifully inadequate. Now we need not imagine that
there was any special virtue in a shepherd's sling, or that God deliberately
delights in the obviously unsuitable. No, the great point about the sling
and stone is that this was the realm in which David had already proved the
Lord. The armour and sword were not natural to him, they were artificial,
whereas the sling and the stone were natural -- spiritually natural. God cannot
use imitations: He requires us to be ourselves, in the right sense.
WHEN David resorted to his tried and proved weapons he must have seemed
rather foolish, but in fact their very simplicity became the secret of his
victory. This was not only because he was adept at using them, but for other
reasons too. For one thing it was no use his having Saul's sword if he could
not even reach up to Goliath's head. In actual fact that head was cut off
by means of Goliath's own sword, but first he had to be felled to the ground.
With all his armour, the giant was virtually unapproachable and had to be
provoked to expose himself. He did so expose himself, and quite probably
did it out of sheer contempt for his puny adversary. I imagine that it was
in careless disgust that he pushed his helmet back on his head, so leaving
his forehead unprotected and a vulnerable target for David's smooth pebble.
"The battle is the Lord's" (v.47). How often has the realisation of that
fact brought faith and inspiration to God's tried servants! If the battle
were not the Lord's, then David would have been better out of it. But since
it was, he could haste and run towards his foe, in complete confidence that
the Lord is invincible. It may be that the running was part of David's simple
technique and that it produced the necessary momentum for his throw, but
it is tremendously enheartening to see a man who is hopelessly outclassed
in every realm except the spiritual, running forward into the battle in the
name of the Lord. One stone was enough. He never used the other four. God
always seems to have a margin for His faith warriors, who are: "more than
conquerors". See also the ignominy of Goliath's defeat in that he was destroyed
by his own weapon. The pebble only stunned him; it was the sword which David
wrested from his powerless foe which destroyed him.
"The battle is the Lord's." Can we say that about our own particular
conflict? If not, then we had much better give it up at once, for we will
surely lose it. But if in humble faith we can be assured that God has brought
us into our present situation and confronted us with a challenge to His
honour, then we need not apologise for our simplicity nor seek to borrow
help from men, but we can move out boldly in His name. The gigantic spear
which threatens us will never be allowed to reach us, and the sword which
was meant for our harm may prove the very means by which we shall be given
SO the whole of Israel was delivered by this one man's fight of faith.
You may be surprised to find that when it was all over, Saul enquired several
times as to whose son David was (verses 55, 56 and 58). Was David not already
known in Saul's court? Had he not played his harp there, and come under the
king's eye? Of course he had. [33/34] Saul did not
ask David's name, for he knew that, but he asked about his ancestry. He
found himself confronted by a problem which seemed to have no natural answer.
He did not say: 'Who are you?', but 'whose son are you?', as though seeking
an explanation in David's pedigree or training. The question betrays the
king's loss of spiritual understanding. After all, when he had first been
called to the kingdom he had demurred that as a Benjamite and a member of
a very humble family in that tribe, he was a nobody. He had forgotten how
God had used him, in spite of his humble ancestry, and had given him a remarkable
victory over these same Philistines because the Spirit of the Lord came
upon him. Ah, that was the difference. The Spirit had left him now. The
effect was not only that he was powerless but that he had become unable
even to understand the spiritual principles of victorious living. It was
not David's family but his faith which made him the man that he was.
BEFORE concluding let us look on into chapter 18 to find two important
features of David's faith, as revealed in the words, 'love' and 'wisdom'.
It is sadly possible to have great faith and yet to be an extremely difficult
person to live with. It should not be so, but I have known men whose faith
was notable in public affairs and yet who, in private life, were quite unkind
to family and friends. David was certainly not one of these, as events so
clearly demonstrated, for everybody who knew him learned to love him. It
had already been said that Saul loved him greatly (16:21), and now we have
further statements, such as: "It came to pass, when he had made an end of
speaking unto Saul that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David,
and Jonathan loved him as his own soul" (18:1); "But all Israel and Judah
loved David" (v.16); and: "Michal, Saul's daughter, loved David" (v.20).
Everybody who had anything to do with David got to love him. It was not chance.
Love begets love. The person who complains that nobody loves him had better
ask himself how many people he himself loves.
There must have been something very lovely, very loveable, about David.
The Lord loved David and all the people loved him too. The story of Jonathan
is a beautiful story of how this one who was being displaced by David (he
naturally would have been heir to the throne himself), became utterly devoted
to the man whom he might have thought of as his rival. It seems that David
provoked such love in his heart that Jonathan cheerfully waived his own rights
to the throne in favour of his new friend. "Jonathan stripped himself of
the robe which was upon him" -- his position, his status -- "and gave it
to David" (v.4). He gave up his arms, his strength, his all, not by any compulsion
but out of sheer devotion. Once again we can compare David with the Lord
Jesus, coming, as it were, straight from His great victory of the Cross,
and winning the heart's devotion of those who are privileged to know him.
Is not Jonathan's response ours? Do we not also lay everything we have or
ever hope for at His feet, and do it gladly? Saul became jealous of David.
He 'eyed him', for he had suspicions that David's advancement would be at
his expense. Never let us be jealous of the Lord. He plans not to rob but
to enrich us. Rather, like Jonathan, let us gladly surrender all to Him.
The second word is 'wisdom'. David obtained a tremendous reputation as
a man of wisdom (v.5). Other people tried to make much of him but he maintained
a humble spirit and went out wherever Saul sent him. His startling victory
had not gone to his head. And when Saul removed him, he still behaved wisely
in all his ways (vv.13-14), not allowing any sourness or sense of injustice
to betray him into foolish words or actions. In spite of Saul's jealousy
he had to admit and even respect the great wisdom of David's behaviour (v.15)
and in the end even the Philistine enemies of Israel had to take note that
David behaved himself more wisely than the rest so that: "his name was much
set by" (v.30).
Where did David get this wisdom? Only by patient and submissive seeking
of the Lord's mind and by recognising that he had no wisdom of his own. This
can readily be proved by the fact that when he took things into his own
hands and turned to Achish for help, he came to the humiliating experience
of hearing this king say to his servants: "Lo, ye see that the man is mad:
... do I lack mad men, that ye have brought this fellow to play the mad man
in my presence?" (21:15). The moment David lost his faith and took things
into his own hands, his so-called wisdom proved to be absolute folly. So it
is with us all. Our wisdom consists in recognising that we have none, and
depending altogether upon the Lord. So the man of faith becomes also a man
of wisdom. But to the end of his days he has no wisdom in himself. After
all David's long experience of God there still came a time when he acted
[34/35] impulsively and was forced to go back in
utter contrition and confess: "I have sinned greatly in that I have done this.
And now I beseech thee, O Lord, take away the iniquity of thy servant, for
I have done very foolishly" (2 Samuel 24:10). It does not matter how long
and how successfully you have served the Lord, if you get out of touch with
Him you will be as big a fool as ever. But thank God, it does not matter how
young and inexperienced you are, if you keep in touch with God you will behave
yourself wisely, as David's story shows.
(To be continued)
IMPORTANCE OF CHURCH LIFE
Reading: Ephesians 4:1-16
WHEN the Lord Jesus gave His disciples the great commission, He told
them not only to preach the gospel to men but also to teach them to observe
all things that they had been commanded. This means that evangelism should
lead on to Church life. The same double emphasis is given by Paul when in
this epistle he explains his own calling: "To preach unto the Gentiles the
unsearchable riches of Christ" -- that is evangelism -- "and to make all
men see what is the dispensation of the mystery ..." (Ephesians 3:8-9) --
and that is something more than evangelism, it is the disclosure of God's
wonderful work of taking Jews and Gentiles and forming them into one Body,
the Church. Paul goes on to say that in this Church God has provided an object
lesson for angelic beings. We are apt to limit our conception of the local
church to a gathering of believers for fellowship and hardly realise that
it is more than that, being an object lesson to the angels in heaven.
The weakest local church here on earth means more to God than all the
mighty empires of the world. For we must never forget that the Church is
the Body of His beloved Son and therefore very dear to His heart. It seems
that Paul appreciated this, so wherever he went preaching the gospel and
seeing men turn to Christ he made it his business to give them spiritual
understanding of the importance and significance of Church life. Earthly
powers and institutions may be used by God as He sees fit and then cast off,
but the Church of Christ, expressed in local churches of believers who gather
in His name, is dearly loved and called to an eternal destiny. What is more,
this is what made gospel work permanent, providing for lasting and ever-increasing
values in the lives of those won for the Saviour. Churches are set in their
areas not only for their own blessing but are also intended to be God's
means for reproducing themselves, so that from them others will hive off
to form new groups in an ever growing extension of the testimony of Christ.
In these verses we see God's programme for the growth of the Christian
Paul's Plea for Unity (vv.1-5)
God's Programme for the Expansion of the church. (vv.6-16)
1. Paul's Plea for Unity
Paul begins his plea by claiming to be a prisoner of the Lord. He was
not even willing to admit that he was a prisoner of Rome. He was not in prison
because some power bigger than God had interfered in the course of events.
No, he was there because God wanted him to be there and planned to use that
prison as the location from which a thrilling message should go forth, of
life in the heavenly places. So the writer was justified in feeling a dignity
and pardonable spiritual pride at his honour of being the prisoner of the
Lord, and knew himself to be in a position from which he could rightly call
upon God's people to walk worthily of their calling.
His use of the word 'therefore' makes it plain that his appeal was being
made in the light of the previous chapters. Chapter 2, for instance, explains
how God has taken both Jew and Gentile, broken down the middle wall of partition
between them and formed them into one new man. This was one of the mightiest
transactions in human history. The distinction between Jew and Gentile was
one of the greatest that had [35/36] ever existed,
an antagonism beside which modern race relations could not be compared. What
is more, that distinction was in part set up by the law for, through Moses,
God had insisted that they should be a separate people, with separate food,
separate types of clothing and separate rules of life. This was so developed
through the years that there arose great enmity between them and the other
nations. Then, in Christ, God came along and broke down all this enmity,
removing the middle wall of partition and making them all brothers in Christ
Jesus. This one new man is God's masterpiece, and to live in accordance with
this divine act is to live worthily of His calling in Christ.
There was, of course, a great danger that those who had been saved and
brought into Christ should revive some of those ancient enmities, and real
tension arose at times because a clean break had not been made. For this
very reason Paul had to make his plea for meekness. Humility, or meekness,
is one of the virtues which fellowship in the local church is designed to
produce. God seems deliberately to place together men of differing temperaments
and cultural backgrounds so that the miracle of divine humility can sustain
the miracle of brotherly harmony. Naturally enough we tend to wish that our
fellow members in the local assembly had all the sweetness of temperament
that we claim for ourselves, but God never shares that wish, for one of His
purposes in taking men of diverse natures and putting them together is to
produce the fruit of the Spirit in each one of their lives.
If the Church were not a divine institution it would never have survived.
Its human ingredients are such that their life together is capable of producing
real dynamite. Only meekness can avoid this. And only meekness can defeat
Satan in his attempts to divide. I have found that it is one thing to evangelise,
but although Satan always opposes that, it is quite another to bear responsibility
for fellowship in a local church. Satan hates such fellowship and does his
utmost to destroy it. In this connection he comes in various guises, not
only like a roaring lion but also as a serpent, a slimy creeping serpent whose
tricks surpass imagination.
These works of Satan not only come upon the local church from without,
but they arise within the ranks of God's people. They are a constant challenge
and a menace. This makes the work of pastors and elders so important. It
is easy for the rest of us to criticise their errors and shortcomings, but
I want to tell you that elders who are seeking to go on with God face problems
which we know little of. No wonder that the apostle appeals for humble determination
on the part of all, that the peace made by Christ should be observed and
practised by His members. Not infrequently people, especially young people,
tend to form themselves into fellowships of those who are like-minded and
of the same cultural, social or age grouping. They then become smugly complacent,
imagining that this is the unity of the Spirit. It is nothing of the kind.
It does not represent God's will at all. What He has done in Christ is to
take people of different ages and temperaments and put them together, so
that the Spirit can work brokenness and meekness as they persevere in their
common life together. This, then, will be not only a testimony to the world,
but also to the angels. It represents a marvellous miracle and displays the
manifold wisdom of God (3:10).
What is the oneness of the Body of Christ? It is what the Lord Jesus
prayed about as being the Church's great testimony to the world (John 17:21).
This is not ecumenical, it is not functional, it is not organisational;
it is the oneness of likeness to Christ Himself. God the Father has shown
us exactly what He wants in His children, and that is likeness to His Son;
and He has made it plain that our corporate experiences in the local church
are the means by which He is able to proceed with this work of conforming
each member to Christ. The unity has been formed. We are not asked to make
it, nor can we do so, but we are solemnly charged to keep it. Satan hates
it, and does his best to sow danger seeds among God's people so that when
they are out of the Spirit there will be explosions and fights about days
of the week or food or other small matters of no moral significance. May
I remark on the sad fact that so many divisions among Christians are not
concerned with matters of fundamental importance but often are due to personality
clashes, even about such trivialities as to what colour the walls should
be painted or something of that kind.
Paul follows his appeal with a description of the seven-fold nature of
this spiritual unity. Each of these features described in verses 4 and 5
is of great importance, and I think that I can truly say that real born-again
believers accept them as a [36/37] matter of doctrine.
We know that there is only one Body, one Spirit and one hope. We agree about
the main body of Scriptural truth about our faith in Jesus Christ, true
Son of God and Saviour of sinners. This is what Jude calls our "common salvation"
and he reminds us that this faith has been once-for-all delivered to the
saints. Thank God for a faith which is not 'Once upon a time ...', but once
for all! Of course we can look around at others and be stumbled by discovering
disagreement in matters that are not fundamental to the faith. For my part
I do not go around looking for matters of disagreement but I look for areas
of agreement. There is one faith. And if we are right about the one faith
and the one baptism which means that all the saved are truly identified with
Christ in His death and resurrection, we shall be right about the one Father
who longs to see His children going on together, submerging their petty personal
differences, keeping their eyes on His Son and looking not at the things which
divide but at those which bind and unite.
2. God's Plan For Expansion
v.6 Diversity of the Gifts
Having stressed the essential unity of the Body, the apostle now proceeds
to emphasise the diversity of members in it. This is the thrilling wonder
of a body, that it has so many different members who yet function perfectly
together as they are obedient to the controlling head. Christ is our Head
and we need to look not to one another but to Him, and so to function together
in a unity of diversity.
v.7 Grace with the Gifts
When God gives a gift then He gives grace to use it. It is foolish to
say that we see our gift but are not able to perform it, for God would never
give a gift without the necessary grace. The danger is that we should be envying
or trying to copy someone else, coveting the gift and lacking the grace for
it. May I strongly urge that you find out what gift God has given you, accept
it as your destiny and rejoice in it to the glory of God.
vv.8-10 The Giver of the Gifts
This quotation from Psalm 68:18 varies slightly from what the psalmist
said. The Holy Spirit inspired the original words about the Lord leading
captivity captive by saying: "He received gifts for men", and the
same Spirit inspired Paul to say that the gifts were given "unto men".
There is no contradiction, for what happened was that after His mighty victory,
Christ ascended back to the Father and as a reward was entrusted with gifts
for men. From His place on high He, as it were, turned round and poured out
these gifts on His Church, giving gifted men to the Church for its upbuilding.
v.11 The Nature of the Gifts
It is clear that the function of the apostles and prophets had to do
with the foundation of the Church. They laid the foundation (2:20). Now
-- since a foundation only has to be laid once, there is a sense in which
these men were unique. No doubt, however, there is a secondary sense in
which the risen Lord still gives apostles and prophets to His Church. We
can all do the work of evangelists and must all be witnesses, but this specific
gift of evangelist is only given to some. And how important is the gift
of pastors, men who will love the sheep, and have special ability by the
Holy Spirit to care for them! Every assembly needs such a gift just as much
as it needs the gift of teachers, who can break down and impart the Word
of God in a living way.
v.12. The Purpose of the Gifts
In the Authorised Version there are two commas here which obscure the
true meaning of what is being said. Why were the gifts given? To build up
the saints so that they could do the work of the ministry. 'For the equipment
of the saints to do the ministering.' People should not be perpetually dependent
on gifted men, sitting week after week spell-bound by sermons and then going
out with nothing resulting. That was never God's intention when He gave these
gifted men. The world will never be evangelised and the Body will never
grow just by a certain class of people -- the whole Church and every local
church must be involved and function as they were meant to do. That is what
the gifts are for.
v.13 The Duration of the Gifts
Christ's Body here on earth must not be dwarfed or mal-nourished, but
a healthy, growing and functioning Body. This process must go on until the
Body is complete and fully grown, which is what the word 'perfect' implies.
v.14 The Consequences of not Exercising the Gifts
If you have people who are not carrying out their function in the Body
of Christ then they [37/38] become easy prey for
any crazy doctrine which may come along. This warning about being deceived
is all too necessary. I would like to tell you that most of the adherents
to cults come not from raw unbelievers, but from people who once had a profession
of faith, but never went on. They were passengers, sermon-tasters, so they
were easily led into false doctrines and talked away from the truth as it
is in Jesus.
vv.15-16 Proper Functioning of the Gifts
The Body grows through exercise. This is a physical truth which can be
seen as a little baby moves around in his crib. You may think that it is
all wasted energy, those flailing arms, kicking legs and lungs working overtime
as he yells away. You may reason what values there might be if only that
enormous waste of energy could be directed into constructive channels. In
fact the whole exercise is constructive. That is the way by which the baby
develops, by putting all the members of its body into exercise. With us the
activities must not be pointless; they must be governed by our risen Head;
but they are essential if the whole Body is to grow into that full stature
which is God's objective. So we come back again to the supreme importance
of the local church, for it is there that the diverse, inter-dependent members
grow up in all things into Christ.
This, then, is God's supreme purpose in eternity, to display His glory
in Christ by means of the Church. And this is His immediate purpose in time,
to make the Church, in its many local expressions, the means for bringing
men into right relationship with Himself. The extension of the testimony
of Christ in the earth can only properly be realised by means of local churches.
So from every viewpoint, we are made to see the immense importance of church
"Ye are of God, my little children, and have overcome them:
because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.
" (1 John 4:4)
THE New Testament does not allow any doubt that the victory of the Lord
Jesus was total and absolute. As a consequence, everyone who belongs to Him
is truly free. The believer has been brought out of the power of darkness
into the kingdom of God's beloved Son; he has been set with Christ in the
heavenlies, far above every power and authority; he is a child of God and
joint-heir with Christ, blessed with all spiritual blessings. He is a member
of the Body of Christ. With Christ God has given him everything for time
and eternity. The one thing which he still has to wait for is the redemption
of his body, but that too is sure.
Because of Jesus' perfect victory the New Testament Letters do not say
very much about the conquered enemy, Satan and his demons, but they do say
a very great deal about the conqueror, Christ. When the Devil is mentioned
here and there, it is never to draw our attention away from Christ to him,
but rather to teach us to regard him in the light of Calvary, that is, as
a conquered foe whom we will neither fear nor allow to deceive us.
We do well to follow the New Testament in this respect, as well as in
every other, and if we do we shall find that we do not devote much attention
to the Devil, make much of him nor waste our time with him. Should he attack
us, then we know that He who is in us is far stronger than he who is in the
world. We have nothing to fear.
A born-again Christian is the temple of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of
power and of victory. Christ dwells in his heart by faith. He is, as we
have already stated, truly free. None can pluck such a one out of the Lord's
hands. The consequences of this total victory of Christ are operative and
effective in his life. It is true that in his unregenerate condition he
used to walk according to the course of this world and was animated by the
spirit who now continues to work in the sons of disobedience, but God
has delivered [38/39] him from all that, raised
him up to the heavenly places and made him to sit down there with Christ,
the conqueror (Ephesians 2:2-6). That is to say that we who used to walk
in trespasses and sins, led and governed by the spirit which is now so busy
in disobedient sinners, are now in Christ, placed in a world into which
Satan and his spiritual powers simply have no admittance. We are in Christ
and it is surely obvious that Satan has no right of entry there.
IT is Christ's perfect victory which has robbed Satan of his glory. This
victory, as we have said, is total and complete. There will never again be
a battle in which Satan has any opportunity to recover from his defeat and
regain the position which he once held. This perfect victory is everywhere
emphasised in New Testament preaching. In the first message which the Lord
Jesus gave, He proclaimed the year of God's grace wherein captives are released
and prisoners set at liberty. The Lord went on to make it very plain that
we are now in that year: "Today hath this Scripture been fulfilled in your
ears" (Luke 4:21).
Christ made powerless the one who hitherto had the power of death. The
victory is absolute. An enemy who is made powerless is indeed conquered,
being not just defeated temporarily but crushed for good and all. What is
more, Christ led Satan and his demons in His triumphal procession by means
of Calvary's Cross (Colossians 2:15 -- Danish version). The whole hierarchy
of evil was chained to Christ's chariot of triumph, shamed and spoiled and
silenced in all their accusations against the saints of God. No wonder, then,
that the apostles did not occupy themselves very much with Satan in their
teaching and preaching! If you consult the Acts of the Apostles you will
discover that by far their sermons dealt most emphatically with the finished
saving work of Christ and His total victory. They concentrated their messages
on the triumph and Lordship of Christ. That is precisely why their words
had such effective impact. It was 'the word of faith'. There were no reserves,
no 'ifs' and 'buts', no limitations and no doubts in their preaching. "Whosoever
shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved," they affirmed; and believers
who did so call were completely saved. It is the same today. Christ's salvation
is not a partial or piecemeal affair. Those who come to Christ, then belong
to the Lord as His property. They receive the Spirit of God and become temples
of that Spirit and members of Christ. The Son makes them free, and they are
IT seems to me that we are in danger of giving much too much attention
to this defeated foe, talking too much about him and his minions and writing
too much about them. The warnings of Scripture are necessary and must be
heeded, but we must be on our guard, for we can easily harm God's interests
by overmuch occupation with the kingdom of evil. I would especially like to
suggest two spheres in which this may become perilous.
If we keep looking away to Jesus; as we are commanded to do, He will
make it His business to pluck our feet from the net (Psalm 25:15), but if
we are always looking over our shoulder to see what Satan is at we will
give him the very platform for working which he is always seeking. Our lives
will become overshadowed by his presence. This is the first danger, and it
is a very real one.
The second peril is that we may succumb to his powerful lies. Satan's
weapons have been taken from him, but he is a master of lying propaganda
and will do his utmost to deceive us into believing that he is not defeated.
He will even pretend that sins of the flesh are not our sins at all but really
things imposed upon us by his demons. I have not infrequently met Christians
who excuse themselves and give Satan the blame for their own moral weaknesses.
A person once came to me saying that he could not stop sinning in a certain
way and asking that I would please drive out the demon who was responsible.
I said: 'No', for it was no question of demon possession but of his yielding
to temptation and allowing the flesh to rule in his life, as any of us can
do. This man was under the dominion of sin and making no effort to get the
victory because he had succumbed to the very easy excuse that it was a demon,
and not he, who was responsible for what he did. So by reason of wrong teaching
about demons he was failing to call sin by its proper name, excusing himself
and trying to persuade others that he was a victim and not an offender.
What is even worse, some people are so deluded by this satanic lie that
they not only avoid blame themselves but place it on their fellow Christians
for not being able to drive out the evil spirit.
ALL this is in direct contradiction to the teaching of the epistles,
which always insist that a Christian can obtain deliverance from any
[39/40] and every sin by the grace of God and the power of the
indwelling Christ. "Sin shall not have dominion over you; for you are ...
under grace" (Romans 6:14). "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith
Christ has made us free" (Galatians 5:1). This is God's truth. Christians
who are led astray by satanic lies will be caught in a web that will hold
them captives to such a degree that they risk suffering damage to their personality.
If they open the door to deceitful distortions of God's Word they will find
the web being pulled more and more tightly around them, whereas they could
be gloriously free if the truth were allowed to govern.
The truth is that sin is sin, and that each person bears the responsibility
for his own sin. But the truth is also that if we come to the light with
our sin, then the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, gives us complete cleansing
and sets us free. It is the truth which makes us free -- the truth about
ourselves and our sin, and the truth about our Saviour.
Let us therefore not be preoccupied with the Devil, but rather with the
truth about him, which is that he was defeated at the Cross. Let us concentrate
on Christ Jesus, who has conquered Satan totally and finally, and let us
enjoy liberty and power as we listen to what God says about His Son. The occult
is obsessing men's minds in these evil days and for our own good we must
beware of getting involved with those who specialise in being occupied with
that kingdom of darkness. If we keep near to the Lord we shall sense in our
own spirits when we are in danger of being side-tracked by our defeated enemy,
and sensing it, turn immediately to set our minds on the things above where
Christ is seated as total Victor.
DON'T STOP PRAYING
THIS afternoon I was chatting with a school-master home on furlough from
India. In the course of our conversation I mentioned the good news of the
conversion to Christ of my friend's eldest son, which took place last year.
When I told him the name, my visitor's face lit up and he informed me that,
although he had never met the young man in question, he was quite familiar
with his name. I was interested to know how this could be.
At this point I should explain that years ago my friend was working for
the Lord in India, and sent his son to the same Christian School at which
my visitor is now teaching. At that time the boy was very rebellious against
the Lord and against the school, and he ran away from it. He did not become
wayward in a bad sense, but he determined to have nothing to do with the
faith of his father and mother. He never went back to the school, and he grew
up to manhood still a rebel. Last year, on the other side of the world, the
miracle happened, and he came to know Christ as his Saviour.
Now we come to the reason why my visitor knew his name so well. It appears
that ever since the escapade, the headmaster of the school had persistently
prayed for the boy's conversion, making his name familiar not only to heaven
but also to the members of the school staff. Nothing happened, but he did
not stop praying. Ten years of praying -- praying for the boy who had run
away! Now the prayer has been wonderfully answered. What an encouragement
to the faithful headmaster, and to us all! We must never stop praying.
[Inside back cover]
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