|Vol. 6, No. 2, Mar. - Apr. 1977
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
THE first time my attention was directed to the New Testament use of
the term 'son', as distinct from 'child', was when I heard the late R. B.
Jones of Porth expound Romans 8. That was many years ago and most of what
he said now escapes my memory, but the spiritual influence of it has never
left me. One particular point which I have found of tremendous value was
the suggestion that for God's sons there is something more important than
what we usually call 'healing', namely an impartation of life to the mortal
body by means of the indwelling Spirit, the Spirit of sonship.
The verse in question has become one of great significance to me: "If
the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who
raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through
His Spirit, who lives in you" (Romans 8:11). Under every kind of circumstance
I have proved its veracity. In other words, although I have known weakness
and occasionally sickness in the physical realm, yet I have always proved
that by a ministration of life from within, I have been given strength
for the tasks to which God has called me.
IT is natural for men of the world to concentrate their care on the matter
of bodily health. If one only has this world to live in, one naturally wants
to get the best out of it and to stay in it as long as possible. As Christians,
however, we have a different viewpoint. The important thing for us is not
that we may be spared weakness or relieved from pain but that Christ may
be magnified in our bodies. Most of us have lived long enough to realise that
God has His own strange ways of getting glory to Himself which are often different
from and higher than our ways.
The governing concern of sons of God is that -- unlike the ungodly who
"shall not live out half their days" -- the purpose of God for their own
lives should be fully realised. All they ask for, like Paul, is to finish
their course with joy. We know that Paul did so finish his course and find
that he was then quite content to say farewell to arms and leave the fighting
of the good fight to others.
One thing we need to be quite clear about, and this is that our present
body is 'mortal', i.e. moving steadily onwards to the grave. This term is
not limited to older people who may clearly be seen to be failing, but it
is the divine description of every human body apart from the perfect and
incorruptible humanity of the Lord Jesus. When the time comes, the Lord Jesus
will give us an entirely new body, like to His own, but meanwhile He is seeking
to prepare us for that day by teaching us new lessons of dependence on Himself.
It is apparent that at times He teaches us such lessons by allowing bodily
weakness and sickness, as witness Trophimus, Timothy and Paul himself. His
purpose in such experiences is never to limit us, nor to bewilder us but
always to make His own indwelling presence the more real. Sometimes He gives
a quick healing, for that is very easy for Him. At other times He proves Himself
marvellously sufficient by giving us just the measure of health and strength
which are needed so that at any moment He can work in us to will and to do
His good pleasure.
MAY I pass on to you two quotations from Watchman Nee in this connection?
Dealing with Paul's "thorn in the flesh", he says: 'We need not enquire what
that thorn was because the Bible does not divulge it. One point, however,
is certain: the consequence of this thorn was that it weakened his body.
The Corinthians were well acquainted with Paul's bodily frailty (2 Corinthians
10:10). Not that this made for any lack of spiritual power -- far from it!
We notice a "law of contrast" here. Neither the thorn nor the weakness which
came from the thorn had left Paul: yet the power of Christ inundated his
frail body and gave him strength to meet every need. The power of Christ did
not waft the thorn away, nor did it eliminate his weakness, but it abode in
Paul in such a way that he was able to handle situations with which his weakened
form could not otherwise have coped. It may be likened to a wick which keeps
on burning because it is saturated with oil. The wick is as flimsy as ever,
but the oil supplies all that is needed for the maintained fire. Thus do
we apprehend the principle that God's life is to be our bodily enablement.
His life does not transform the nature of our weak and mortal body; it merely
replenishes it with all its necessary supplies.' [21/22]
As I have already reminded you, our bodies are mortal, having within
them the certainty of corruption. What we are meant to do is to prove how
Christ's life can triumph over death, and we shall have this opportunity
right to the end of our days. To quote Watchman Nee again: 'It may be that
the Lord will save us from death altogether by rapture: nevertheless we should
never ask for the speedy return of Christ in glory just because we ourselves
are afraid of dying.'
MY purpose in writing in this way is to give positive encouragement to
those who may be disheartened or bewildered over this matter of 'healing'.
Sometimes our difficulty is that we concentrate on ourselves, having the
idea that if only we were consciously healthy in our bodies we would be better
servants of Christ. Like Peter in his youth, we feel that if we can gird
ourselves and walk whither we would, all will be well. Could it be that the
risen Lord tells us that the time has come for us in the will of God to stretch
forth our hands and be carried whither we would not, and that the inspired
comment might be given about us, as it was concerning Peter, that this is
how we can best glorify God. Is there some task which God requires us to
do? Then He will give us sufficient health and strength to do it. We can
rightly claim that the indwelling Spirit will minister to the needs of our
mortal body in this way. Is it possible that we can glorify Him best by inaction?
Then let us give our glad 'Amen' to His will.
From time to time I have shared with other brethren the procedure indicated
in James 5.14 of anointing with oil and praying for a sick believer. I do
not feel free to do this on the basis of claiming instantaneous healing,
but prefer that the one concerned chooses the will of God. That we can always
claim, and to the Lord's glory I can testify to gracious answers to such
prayers. But why the oil? For my part I associate this outward symbol with
the inward reality of the Holy Spirit. This brings us back again to Romans
8 where so much is made of the Spirit of sonship. He dwells in our spirits.
He delivers our souls and enlightens our minds. He gives life as we need it,
even to our mortal bodies. He also fills our hearts with hope as we wait for
our adoption, our full recognition as sons, which will come with entirely
new and different bodies. "If we hope for that which we see not, then do we
with patience wait for it" (verse 25).
BUILDING WITH GOD
(Studies in the book of Nehemiah)
J. Alec Motyer
2. MEETING OPPOSITION (4:1 TO 5:19)
IN chapter 3 we see a coherent functioning fellowship at work, as the
task of building was parcelled out round the wall. So the work began. Immediately,
however, the work came under attack, as is described in chapter 4. The work
did not go unchallenged; it did not do so then, it never does and it never
will until the people of God are safe in the glory.
ASSAULT ON THE WORK OF GOD
"It came to pass, when Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was
angry." In a word, he heard and he hated. The two things happened together:
he no sooner heard than he hated. The work of God is always opposed. There
is always one concerning whom it is true to say that when he hears he hates.
The name at that time was Sanballat. There have been many names throughout
the history of God's people, but there is one abiding name, that of Satan,
the archenemy. He uses many instruments to express his hearing and hating
and this was one of them. Sanballat, as we learn in the books of Ezra and
Nehemiah, was the governor of the province of Samaria, the remainder of the
old Northern Kingdom. One can only presume that while Jerusalem lay in ruins
he was able quietly to [22/23] add the province of
Judah to the province of Samaria, so making a bit on the side by magnifying
his office and extending his dominion. We can only presume that this was
so. It would certainly seem to be an adequate explanation of his incessant
opposition to the rebuilding of Jerusalem. He saw that his own authority and
domain were being threatened and eroded; he was unwilling to give up one
inch of territory on which he could exert a claim, rightly or wrongly; he
was moved by jealousy for his own authority. This is typical of Satan and
this is why when he hears he always hates. The work of God is always opposed,
and here was the onset of opposition in a speech full of a scorn begotten
of satanic animosity.
It would seem that Sanballat was entertaining what today we would call
a visiting head of state, in the person of Tobiah. Tobiah was the provincial
governor of the province of Amman, so he is usually referred to as Tobiah
the Ammonite. It seems that he went to Samaria and, as happens when there
is such a visitor, he was received with a guard of honour. While the ceremonies
were proceeding, Sanballat chose the occasion to start his campaign of hatred
and opposition against the building of the wall. One can imagine the parade
of state dignitaries and the military guard of honour, with Sanballat making
the welcoming speech as Tobiah stepped off the train on to the red carpet.
First of all Sanballat attacked the people of God. He attacked them in their
own persons: "What do these feeble Jews?" He attacked them in their hopes:
"Will they restore?" There is a certain amount of hesitation as to the meaning
of this verb, but it is used elsewhere in the sense of regathering or restoring,
and this gives a good meaning here. It was the hope of the people of God
to restore the ancient city of Jerusalem. He mocked their hopes.
Moreover he mocked their confidence in God: "Will they sacrifice?" Evidently
the testimony of Nehemiah had not gone unheard: "The God of heaven, he will
prosper us" (2:20). The Hebrew text is set out there in such a way that those
words: "The God of heaven" stand in an emphatic position, so that what Nehemiah
said to Sanballat was really equivalent to this: "There is a God in heaven
and He will prosper us. That is where we stand and that is where we start."
So Sanballat mocked this confidence in God, saying: "do they think that
all they need is to get God on their side? We will show them a thing or
two!" He mocked their enthusiasm: "Will they make an end in a day?" They
had been as busy as beavers, working on this task as though it could be
finished by nightfall, and this aroused further scorn. He mocked their problems:
"Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, seeing they are
burnt?" They are a lot of amateurs and are forced to use inferior, second-hand
material for their 'Do it yourself' job. He mocked their problems. Responding
to this speech of welcome, Tobiah added his own touch: "Even that which
they build, if a jackal should go up, he would break down their stone wall".
This was a very subtle and searing comment. Jackals are found in ruins.
There must have been plenty of them in the old ruined city. Tobiah suggested:
"Why not leave it to the jackals? They will be prowling round at night,
and all it needs is one of them to step on their wall and it will collapse.
Don't exercise yourself. Just leave it to the jackals!" So it was that the
work of God was exposed to hostile mockery.
As we read on in the chapter, we discover that the advancing work meets
with mounting opposition. "It came to pass that, when Sanballat, and Tobiah,
and the Arabians, and the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites, heard that the repairing
of the walls of Jerusalem went forward ... then they were very wroth" (verse
7). The work was advancing and so the opposition increased, with a greater
company and more bitter opposition. It is always like this; the advancing
work meets with a mounting opposition. It is written in the Word of God
because it is always so -- let the work go forward and the opposition will
mount. There were enemies on every side; Sanballat to the north, Tobiah the
governor of Ammon on the east, the Arabians on the south and the Ashdodites
on the west. North, south, east and west, the enemies were all round the
people of God and they were there in a triumphant spirit. They said: "They
shall not know, neither see, till we come into the midst of them, and slay
them, and cause the work to cease". Now of course the wall was only slightly
built and there were no gates, so that it would have been easy for them to
have come right into the midst of the city under the cover of night, so bringing
the work to an end.
This hostility and boasting had a debilitating effect in its nagging
pressure upon the builders. [23/24] "Judah said,
The strength of the bearers of burdens has faltered and there is much rubbish;
so that we are not able to build" (verse 10). There is always a voice which
says: "We cannot go in; our strength is at an end; the difficulties are
insurmountable". Resources too small and problems too great -- that sounds
very modern, though the story comes to us from 445 B.C. Then there was another
voice which said: "Ye must return". The passage in verse 12 is difficult
to translate, but it seems to refer to the people who were coming in from
immediate contact with the outposts of the surrounding enemy. They came in
from every place, saying over and over again ("ten times", said Nehemiah,
as he began to sicken of hearing this constant reiteration): "You must come
back to us". In this dangerous situation they were fearful in their isolated
villages and farmsteads, while their menfolk were working on the wall, and
they argued: "You cannot leave us alone like this. The enemy is on every
side. You must come back home to us". So it was that the pressure of the
enemy began to erode the spirit of God's people. But if this chapter describes
that pressure, it also tells us the way of victory. The resources are sufficient,
after all. There is victory for God's people. "Greater is he that is in us
than he that is in them". The resources are sufficient. What are those resources?
When the news was brought back to Jerusalem of what Sanballat had said
to the parade in Samaria and what Tobiah had replied, Nehemiah also had
something to say, but what he said was addressed to God: "Hear, O our God,
for we are despised; and turn back their reproach upon their own head, and
give them up to spoiling in a land of captivity; and cover not their iniquity,
and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee". Prayer first (verse
4). Prayer continuing (verse 9). Prayer effective (verse 16). The first resource
of the people of God is prayer.
What a remarkable prayer that was that Nehemiah prayed! You and I would
never have dared to pray words so bitter and so expressive of hatred. They
are fighting words. I would not be surprised if someone did not say that
this was a spirit typical of the Old Testament, when the Israelites were often
a bitter and hateful nation. This, of course, is a quite unacceptable comment.
Firstly, Nehemiah's prayer was based on the confidence that God is at one
with His people: "Hear us, for we are despised ... they have provoked
thee". Why is God to hear us? Because in offending us they have offended
Him, for He and His people are bound together. What a marvellous truth this
is, that God is identified with His people. When the people of God are hurt,
God is offended. There is our security; there is the confidence upon which
our prayers can be based. If the enemy attacks us, he touches the apple of
Secondly, Nehemiah's prayer was, biblical, expressing the Scriptural
truth of divine recompense. The Bible strongly warns God's people never
to take vengeance themselves, giving as the reason: "Vengeance belongeth
unto me", says the Lord, "I will repay". Nehemiah was praying what the Bible
allowed him to pray, and he was doing so with realism. We would be quite
happy if Nehemiah had said in his prayer: "O Lord, please deal with them".
We would find no problem in that. If, however, we ask how God deals with
such people the answer is that He deals with the false accuser by bringing
his accusation back on his own head (Deuteronomy 19:18-19), and He deals
with the person who provokes His holiness by refusing to forgive his sins.
So Nehemiah simply took the Bible literally. He prayed with realism. Every
time we pray: "Even so, come Lord Jesus", we are asking for Him to come
in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them who obey not the gospel, for that
is the realistic opposite side to the glory of the Second Coming; that is
what will most certainly happen.
2. Consecrated Work
"... and we built the wall" (verse 6). Many versions have "so we built",
but the Hebrew particle is a simple connective. We prayed and we built. Part
of the counter-attack was to go right on with the work of the Lord, and
the people had a mind (Hebrew, 'a heart') for the work. Their heart was
in the work. This is most definitely a factor in victory over the enemy.
So often we wait around for God to give us the victory so that then we can
be liberated to do His work, but this is quite wrong. The work of God is
part of the way of victory. Nehemiah serves as a great visual aid in this
respect. How will you keep the enemy from having the victory? By getting
on with the work. Commitment, consecration, a heart in the task, this is the
way to defeat the enemy and to live a victorious life. [24/25]
3. Ceaseless Vigilance
"We made our prayer unto God and we set a watch against them day and
night, because of them" (verse 9). The watch is necessary "because of them".
The enemy is ceaselessly on the prowl; he is ceaselessly ready to attack;
therefore there must be a ceaseless vigilance against him. This is the price
of victory. And the vigilance must be concentrated at the places which are
most exposed and vulnerable.
4. A Clear Vision of God
"I looked and rose up, and said to the nobles, and to the rulers, and
to the rest of the people: Be not afraid of them; remember the Lord" (verse
14). How about this as a message for God's people today -- "Be not afraid
of them; remember the Lord"! Nehemiah was a man who knew how to encourage
God's people, and in this he is an example to all of us who should have a
message of encouragement. We must show them what God is like. Remember the
Lord! He is great! He is the Sovereign One, for that is the meaning of this
use of the title 'Lord'. Remember the One who is of sovereign authority and
sovereign executive power, and so well able to deal with all the forces of
the enemy. Remember and reverence Him, and you will be delivered from all
fear of your foes.
5. Responsible Church Membership
As you remember the Lord, "fight for your brethren, your sons and your
daughters, your wives and your houses". You must have a responsible involvement
in concern for the welfare of God's people and must accept individual responsibility
for your brethren. How important it is for spiritual victory that we should
maintain a concern for fellowship, each one stirring himself up with the
obligation of standing firm for the sake of all. If we do this we will be
given the victory. "It came to pass that when our enemies heard ... that God
had brought all their counsel to nought, that we returned all of us to the
wall, every one to his work." The threat was over. The attack upon the work
of God had been defeated.
ASSAULT ON THE UNITY OF FELLOWSHIP
We now come to the second phase of Satan's assault, which was an attack
on the fellowship of God's people. "There arose a great cry of the people
and of their wives against their brethren" (verse 1). This was a specific
assault on unity. The last element in the Bible's recipe for victory which
we considered in chapter 4 was Responsible Church Membership. The remainder
of that chapter deals with the collective strength of the people of God and
at the end of the chapter we are told how Nehemiah proceeded to organise
that unity into a collective strength. All were to gather together at the
place of attack. Each one is safe as long as all are one; when fellowship
ceases, then strength departs. That is why the unity of fellowship came under
Now what happened seems to be that there were three aspects of economic
stress. First of all: "We, our sons and our daughters are many. Let us get
corn that we may eat and live" (verse 2). The work on the wall was a voluntary
exercise. It took nearly two months. Here were people with large families
who were foregoing their wages all that time, and who did not have enough
to eat. They asked for food. Secondly it was a time of economic stress because
there was a famine, and in that famine situation, there were some who were
saying: "We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our houses; let
us get corn, because of the dearth" (verse 3). We must have a little bit of
capital behind us; we have some assets; but these assets are gradually passing
into the hands of the finance houses because that is the only way in which
we can compete with rising prices in a time of inflation. Then there was
the Inland Revenue: "We have borrowed money for the king's tribute" (verse
4). The dearth had hit them so hard that they had had to borrow money in
order to pay land tax on the very property which should have been supporting
them. Economic stress prevailed right throughout the community, and in it
brother was battening upon brother. "I consulted with myself, and contended
with the nobles and the rulers, and said unto them: Ye exact usury everyone
of his brother" (verse 7). People were borrowing and being soaked by the money-lenders;
brother was fastening upon the flesh of brother, so that divisions arose
among God's people. Now if we are to persevere in the work of God and carry
it to completion, unity is essential. When unity suffers:
1. It is against safety
This was producing the classical division between the 'haves' and the
'have nots'. Suppose there had been an assault upon the city which
[25/26] happened to fall upon the rich quarter. The poor people,
who had been suffering at the hands of the wealthy money-lenders, would
say to themselves: "Why should we bother about their problems? It is their
part of the city which is being attacked, not ours. Let them get on with
it." What would happen? The entire city would fall, and not just the wealthy
quarter, for once the enemy is in, he is in. Suppose the attack had come
upon the poor quarter. The richer ones might say: "Well, they are a poor
lot. They have made no proper provision for themselves. They are a thriftless
and shiftless lot who have never saved a penny in their lives. Why should
we bother about them?" But it would be the whole city which would fall.
2. It is against brotherly reality
The complaint of the oppressed was: "Our flesh is as the flesh of our
brethren; our children as their children" (verse 5). "Our flesh is as their
flesh." We all belong to the same family. This was not class animosity --
"we are as good as they" -- but a simple statement of the reality of the
essential unity of God's people. It is always against family reality when
unity is threatened.
3. It belies the fear of God
"Also I said: The thing ye do is not good. Ought ye not to walk in the
fear of our God?" (verse 9). The interesting thing about this is that the
sin was against the second table of the law, the one which teaches good
neighbourliness, but Nehemiah made his appeal to the first table of the
law, charging them with showing a lack of fear towards God. To him it seemed
so clear that if those concerned had felt a proper reverence for God and
fear of Him, then it would have been evidenced in their lives by proper
consideration for their brothers. It is contrary to the fear of God if we
allow unity to suffer.
4. It mars testimony
The same verse goes on to say that the Israelites should have shown due
reverence for God and their brothers "because of the reproach of the heathen,
our enemies". The breakdown of fellowship among God's people always mars
the testimony which should be given in the world around. It brings reproach
to His name.
5. It is life below the highest
The chapter ends with a striking, testimony given by Nehemiah himself.
He affirms that he had surrendered his rights as governor. "From the time
that I was appointed to be their governor ... that is, twelve years, I and
my brethren have not eaten the bread of the governor. But the former governors
that were before me were chargeable unto the people" (verses 14 and 15).
What is more, he surrendered his opportunities: "Also I continued in the work
of this wall, neither bought we any land" (verse 16). As he sat at the centre
of the administration he doubtless heard of many a bargain that he might
have snapped up, but he never took advantage of that knowledge. He did not
buy any land in furtherance of his own interest. He surrendered his resources:
"Moreover there were at my table of the Jews and the rulers an hundred and
fifty men, beside those that came unto us from the heathen that were round
about us". It was a lavish table: "Yet for all this I demanded not the bread
of the governor, because the bondage was heavy upon this people" (verses
17 and 18). His double reason for this generous surrender of his own private
resources was because of his fear of God (verse 15) and because of the people's
need. Nehemiah feared God and loved God's people, so giving us an example
of how to live within and contribute to a united people. Unity always fractures
at the point of self-will and self-interest. At that time God's people were
delivered from the assault on their essential unity by Nehemiah's surrender
of his rights, his opportunities and his resources. Once again the attack
ASSAULT ON THE INDIVIDUAL SERVANT OF GOD
The key words which describe chapter six are: "Sanballat and Geshem sent
unto me" (verse 2). It so happens that in my Bible the word 'me' is directly
under the name Sanballat, so I have put a ring around them to indicate what
the chapter is about: "Sanballat and me". Sanballat had assaulted the work
and he had been repulsed by God. The arch-enemy had assaulted unity, and
he had been repulsed by the recovery of Biblical standards of oneness and
concern. The enemy now attacked the individual servant of God. The city will
be as strong as the individual citizen. Satan sensed that there might be a
way in if he could induce one man to betray the whole situation. Nehemiah
1. At the level of consecration
"It came to pass, when it was reported to Sanballat and Tobiah, and Geshem
the Arabian, [26/27] and unto the rest of our enemies,
that I had builded the wall, and that there was no breach left thereto ...
that Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me" (verses 1 and 2). Notice how every
advance is countered by an attack from the enemy! This enemy never gives
up. The walls were now complete; all that remained were the gates. Did the
enemy say: "Oh well, nothing more can be done. Let them hang the gates if
they like"? No, no! The assault goes right on to the end. Their plot was to
invite Nehemiah to meet them in one of the villages in the plain of Ono. Whether
they meant to assassinate him, or to use some pressure to make him withdraw
from his leadership, we do not know. What did become clear was that they
meant to do him a mischief. The interesting thing to us is the way in which
he replied: "I sent messengers to them, saying: I am doing a great work,
so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease, while I leave it and
come down to you" (verse 3). He replied in terms of consecrated obedience
to God. He knew that he had been entrusted with a work and must not allow
personal considerations to deflect him from absolute obedience. And so he
was delivered. So long as we obey God, Satan cannot trip us up.
2. At the level of reputation
After four rebuffs, Sanballat sent his servant with an open letter in
his hand, that is to say, with something which anybody who wished to do so
could read. The open letter had written in it: "It is reported among the
nations, and Gashmu saith it ...". Now who, in the name of all that is wonderful,
was Gashmu? I am afraid that your Bible may have changed this mysterious
name and substituted for it Geshem, who was the Arabian enemy. Nobody has
any right to do this, for the letter read: "and Gashmu says it". And who,
pray, was Gashmu? There was no such person! The name was invented just to
make it sound more imposing. The implication was that this must be a very
significant rumour if Gashmu says it. You will often find that people
act in the same way, only now the words are: "Everybody says it".
Gashmu says it! What more could you want than that? So a lying and convincing
rumour was used to bring pressure to bear upon Nehemiah. He was quite falsely
accused of trying to set himself up as an important person. "Thou hast also
appointed prophets to preach of thee at Jerusalem, saying, There is a king
in Judah; and now it shall be reported to the king according to these words,
Come now, and let us take counsel together" (verse 7). Let us take good note
of the beautiful simplicity of Nehemiah's reply. It was based on an absolutely
clear conscience. This is our great protection against innuendos and lying
rumours and the fear which they are meant to induce; an open and clean conscience.
When Nehemiah was attacked at the level of reputation, he found that victory
came through simple holiness of life. No wonder that Paul said: "I exercise
myself to have a conscience void of offence before God and men all the time!"
3. At the level of discernment
There was a man called Shemaiah, the son of Delaiah, who was shut up,
that is under some restraint. We do not know what this means, it may be that
he was under some ceremonial restriction, but in any case Nehemiah went
to visit him. He was met by what was apparently the word of God. In verse
12 Nehemiah describes his words as a prophecy. It purported to be a message
from God, and it urged Nehemiah to join this man within the temple. It was
in fact the false utterance of a hired prophet, but it sounded both wise
and helpful. Nehemiah, however, was delivered once again from the wiles of
his enemies. His reply was: "Should such a man as I flee? How can a man in
my position go into God's holy sanctuary to save my life?" Only the priests
were allowed into the sanctuary. Remember what the Scriptures tell us of
Uzziah the king. He tried to usurp the priest's office and entered the sanctuary
presumptuously, even though he was resisted with the rebuke: "It pertaineth
not to thee, Uzziah". "Can I do a thing like that?" asked Nehemiah, "Shall
a man like me presume to go in there?"
Nehemiah did not take a naive view of this man's claim to be a prophet,
but he compared the pretended word of the Lord with the written Scriptures.
We must do the same. Not everybody who claims to speak for God is His true
prophet, and we too may have discernment if we test all things by the Word
of God which has been committed to us. Nehemiah was tested at the point of
discernment and was delivered from this and from the other false prophets
and prophetesses by the discernment which is available to all who reverence
and obey God's holy Word. [27/28]
"So the wall was finished" (verse 15). It was finished because it was
well founded. It was finished not because it was free from attacks but because
in the midst of opposition God's people knew how to go on with Him. They
laid hold upon those means of grace which God gives His people for a life
of triumph, namely prayer, work, vigilance and a concern for God's glory.
The wall was completed because when unity was threatened, fellowship was maintained.
The wall was completed because when the individual was attacked, he replied
in terms of obedience, holiness and a knowledge of Holy Scripture. "The wall
was finished." Praise be to God!
(To be continued)
BUILDING WITH LIVING STONES
Reading: 1 Peter 2:1-10
THE Bible has a way of emphasising truths by putting them in a negative
form. An example of this is found in Paul's assertion: "I am not ashamed
of the gospel of Christ". What he really meant was that he was very proud
of the gospel. Then our Lord assures us: "him that cometh to me I will in
no wise cast out". The positive and gracious implication of these words is
that all who come to the Saviour will be lovingly received and will have a
warm welcome. In connection with spiritual construction we have the psalmist's
negative approach: "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain
that build it" (Psalm 127:1). "Except the Lord build ..." or: "If the Lord
does not build ...", is surely meant by God to stress the wonders of what
happens when the Lord does build. If the Lord builds the house, then
those who labour can be certain that they will not labour in vain.
God is building: there can be no "if" about that. And He is building
with material of His own provision and preparation, the living stones, described
in this passage from 1 Peter 2. The first chapter of Peter's letter speaks
of the work of redemption, the deliverance by the precious blood of the Lamb
from the old vain manner of life, and the call to a holy walk in newness
of life with the Father. This second chapter gives an indication of the purpose
of this redeeming work, describing it as the building up of living stones
to make a house for God's own dwelling. He has called us out of nature's
darkness into His own marvellous light not only for our own good but for His
satisfaction and His service.
THE beginning and basis of this building is associated with a quotation
from another psalm: "The stone which the builders rejected is become the
head of the corner. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvellous in our eyes"
(Psalm 118:22-23). When Peter first heard the Lord use this verse as a clear
challenge to His critics, he did not fully appreciate its significance. On
the dark betrayal night, he probably joined in the singing of this same psalm,
but at that time was in no condition to enjoy what it predicted of the marvellous
reaction of God which would follow the nation's rejection of His Son. After
the resurrection, however, and with the aid of the Holy Spirit, he saw it
all clearly and spoke with great conviction as he insisted that the Lord
Jesus is the stone and that this fact is a foundation truth concerning salvation:
"Neither is there salvation in any other" (Acts 4:12). The would-be builders
had made a profound error. God, however, had stepped in and put the matter
right. All that He asked of those mistaken blunderers was that they would
hand the building work over to Him, and so through His Son they could yet
find forgiveness and salvation, with a place in His divine purpose. This
they refused to do, so they disqualified themselves from any further part
in the building of God's house. The rejectors were themselves rejected. Many,
however, did find salvation through the name of Jesus, and to such Peter wrote
to explain something more of the significance of the chosen corner stone.
The passage teaches that those who come to Jesus find themselves transformed
into living [28/29] stones so that they can be built
up into this spiritual house which the Lord is building. We see that the
intention which lay behind God's purpose in exposing His beloved Son to unbelieving
men's rejection and then answering them by the marvel of resurrection was
that He might build a house for Himself among redeemed humanity. The Living
Stone and the living stones are the material for His Church. The apostle
was glad to class himself among the living stones. When he first came to Christ
he was given this name of 'Peter', which seems to have been a prophetic reference
to the rock-like man which he would later become through faith in the Lord
Jesus, the eternal Rock. The word used in this passage, however, refers not
only to the material but to its condition, for it speaks of stones which
have been prepared and shaped. It therefore seems that we have to consider
two phases of God's work of building His house. The first relates to material,
and the second to the shaping and fitting together of that material.
GOD began with a miracle. He raised His Son from the dead, so making
Him the Living Stone. The Jewish leaders rejected Christ's claims from the
first and persisted in their opposition to Him, but the supreme act of rebellion
and rejection was when they had Him crucified. The psalmist's quotation,
however, points out that far from accepting man's verdict, God insisted that
this Stone was His elect and was to be honoured. He consequently reacted by
raising Christ to newness of life so that He Himself could commence this building
work with His Son as its chief Corner Stone. "This is the Lord's doing",
cried the jubilant psalmist, "and it is marvellous in our eyes". So there
can be no question as to whether it is the Lord who is building this house.
Nor are we left to speculate as to the material, for Peter tells us that
as we keep coming to Christ, we who share in His resurrection have ourselves
been made into living stones that we might all share His supreme honour.
"For you therefore which believe is the preciousness (or the honour)."
This is the correct rendering of Peter's words, and while it includes the
fact that Jesus is precious to all who believe in Him, it seems rather to
suggest that amazing truth that we little living stones are called to have
a share in the great honour accorded to God's Living Stone who is so especially
chosen to receive honour. The Father plans to give us a place with His Son
in His glorious house. "Except the Lord build the house ...". He is building
it and He never labours in vain.
"UNTO whom coming ... ye are built up." This Scripture poses some searching
questions. Are we continually coming to Christ? If so, we must increasingly
be finding close fellowship with other believers. Are we livingly growing
together with others? If not, is there perhaps some flaw in our relationship
with Him who is the chief Corner Stone? Every Christian who is feeding on
the sincere milk of the word should face this challenge. And every minister
of the Word has a further reminder that if the purpose of the ministry is
to share in this building up of God's house, then the basis and thrust of
ministry must always be to communicate Christ and draw men closer to Him.
The Lord Jesus made it plain that He, and He alone, would build His Church.
In this passage, however, Peter suggests the basis upon which He always works:
"unto whom coming ...". Are you continually coming to Christ? What are you
coming for? It ought to be that in the power of His new life you can function
in the building of the house of God.
To some this may seem an inadequate motive. They rather feel that our
primary task as Christians is to win others for Christ. Let Peter himself
clarify this point. Is Church life really the 'holy huddle' which it is so
often called? The Bible tells us that in the first place this living home
for God is designed: "to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God".
This is man's highest and most sublime destiny -- to minister to the satisfaction
of the heart of God. Not only in eternity, when gospel witnessing will no
longer be our task, but here in time, the Church is called to this holy service
of worship. If we fail to practise fellowship or if our life together with
other Christians is just for what we can get out of it, then we have
not even drunk of the milk of Bible truth. The primary purpose which God had
in calling us out of darkness into His marvellous light was that as a holy
priesthood we might minister to Him.
Not that witnessing is unimportant. Peter, above all people, would never
allow us to think that. No, he lays down that once this primary matter is
settled, we must go on to the further function of God's united people, which
is: "that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who
[29/30] called you". Witness goes hand in hand with worship. Men
around us are still in the darkness, but there is a place in God's marvellous
light for them too, and we are meant to attract them to that light by practical
and positive means. The excellencies of our Saviour's love must be demonstrated
by life and lip, so that others may come to Christ and keep on coming, so
being made and shaped into living stones for the completion of God's house.
This, then, is the double vocation of those who had hitherto had no mercy
and no place among God's people but whom redemption has recovered for God.
THE remainder of the epistle which follows this section in chapter 2
seems to be devoted to encouraging the living stones as they are being cut
and hammered and shaped for their eternal destiny. "Except the Lord build
the house ...". How does He build it? First by making us alive in Christ
and then by continually working upon us to conform us to Christ. Christ is
the Corner Stone. Everything is to be constructed in accordance with Him.
So God is working in many wonderful ways which are strange and painful to
us with the one aim of having in eternity a house which is indeed worthy
of His great name. Each individual living stone is precious to Him, and each
has an honoured place in the house which He is building. For this very reason
it is not strange that each one has his own share of pains and trials.
We can take great encouragement from the fact that our chief Corner Stone
was also made perfect through suffering (Hebrews 2:10). He had none of those
ugly corners or rough blemishes which characterise the rest of us. Considered
in isolation, He was always absolutely perfect. It seems, however, that for
the purposes of the divine building He had to endure the pain and stress
of fellowship life with His disciples. Apart from the actual pangs of His
substitutionary death He suffered constant daily trials, not a few of which
were caused by the very fact that He chose to maintain fellowship with His
apostles. So it was that He was being prepared to become the Headstone of
a spiritual edifice, fully adjusted to others as well as being perfect in
Himself. This should comfort us, particularly when there seems no other explanation
for the painful things happening to us. When we suffer in connection with
our own faults and imperfections, we feel the pain but we recognise the necessity
for what we go through. Like the psalmist, we are able to confess: "I know
that in faithfulness thou hast afflicted me" (Psalm 119:75). This, we can
say, is part of the Builder's work in preparing us for our holy vocation.
Though we are living stones, we still have need of correction to straighten
us out and smooth us down. When, however, we suffer unjustly and -- as it
seems to us -- unnecessarily, we find it difficult to understand the wisdom
of God's ways. This time we say, with the psalmist: "I have sworn and have
confirmed it, that I will observe thy righteous judgments. I am afflicted
very much" (Psalm 119:106-7), as though enquiring as to why this should be
The only really satisfactory answer to that kind of question is that
such suffering is part of God's work of conforming us to our chief Corner
Stone. 1 Peter 2:20-21, dealing with the trials of those who do well and
yet suffer for it, confirms this explanation. We are in the hands of the
Master Builder. It would certainly be labour in vain if He were not involved
in the building of this house, but He is so involved: "Wherefore let them
also that suffer according to the will of God commit their souls in well-doing
unto a faithful Creator" (1 Peter 4:19). Let us then persevere in constantly
coming to Christ, the Living Stone, and He will persevere in His work of
building us up, as living stones, into His own spiritual house.
PURPOSE AND PATTERN
(Studies in the Epistle to the Ephesians)
John H. Paterson
3. GOD'S ETERNAL HOUSE
PAUL wrote his letter to the Ephesians in order to impress upon them
the importance of living daily lives worthy of the purpose for which God
had called them and in which they had a part to play. This same call goes
out to Christians of every generation: it matters how we live. Holiness of
living and moral quality are not optional extras, like something fancy fitted
[30/31] to a car which will operate perfectly well
without it. To walk worthy of our calling is the heart of the whole matter.
But what is this purpose of God to which we are all called? It
is a rather curious thing that many Christians seem to get along happily
in the spiritual life without ever really confronting this question; yet it
is self-evident that nobody can contribute usefully to a purpose if they do
not know what that purpose is supposed to be. So let us try to establish the
answer to our question, as we find it in this Epistle to the Ephesians.
Paul uses the word 'purpose' twice, once in the first chapter and once
in the third. He is at pains to underline that this is an eternal
purpose; that is to say, what he is identifying is God's consistent and
permanent plan, not just some passing whim. It is the purpose to which God
committed Himself long before there were any human beings to make a contribution
to it, and it continues to be His purpose for every succeeding generation.
It is a purpose which involves not only His people, the Church, but also
other agencies within His creation. No doubt, for example, the angels have
their assigned function in it, while the central role is certainly played
by His Son, Jesus Christ. But a very special part is reserved for the Church.
The reference in Ephesians 1:11 gives us the overall definition of the purpose,
while that in Ephesians 3:11 defines the special role of the Church, and
we shall consider that in our next study.
EPHESIANS 1:11 tells us that God's eternal purpose is to gather together,
or sum up, all things in Christ, heavenly things and earthly things alike.
Although the wording of the verse varies from one translation of the Bible
to another, the general idea is quite clear. In any case, if it is not, we
find the same idea, inverted but still recognisable and even more simply
stated, in Ephesians 4:10: "that he (Christ) might fill all things". That
is probably the briefest and clearest statement in the whole Bible of what
God purposes to do.
What is not so clear (and what consequently we should be asking
ourselves as we read the verse) is why God should have chosen that
as His eternal objective, rather than something else. Presumably, as God,
He had an infinite range of possible goals to choose from. Why choose
WE can never take it for granted that we understand the mind of God;
His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. But one explanation of this particular
choice of purpose which would certainly make it logical is this: that Jesus
Christ is the only person -- one might almost say the only object -- in all
God's creation who perfectly satisfies Him. Everybody else, and everything
else, has been spoilt by sin and is less than perfect. In sin and imperfection
there can be no satisfaction for God; He abhors them. But if He could look
all around His creation and, in doing so, see nothing but Christ, then He
could truly say: "I am satisfied". If, as He surveyed that creation, once
so beautiful and now so marred, He saw not the imperfections but only His
Son, He could look upon it all with pleasure. If everything were summed up,
or gathered together, in Christ, then all the people and things which offend
His holiness would be obliterated by the one Object which does satisfy Him,
and He would be able truly to say: "I like what I see"; to use a phrase from
the very beginning of the creation, He would find it all, once again, "very
Perhaps, then, that is why God has designed His goal and purpose in this
particular way. The goal itself is clear. And it is clear, too, how He will
measure progress towards it. The purpose of God is being achieved to the
extent that the Lord Jesus is filling people and things. For an understanding
of what that may mean for us on a personal level, we may want to turn to other
of Paul's letters, those to the Galatians and Philippians, and read again
such familiar words as: "... not I, but Christ liveth in me", and "not having
my own righteousness, but that which is through the faith of Christ". In
other words, the worldwide process of Christ filling all things begins, so
far as we are concerned, by His filling us. Here, in our own individual
lives, in advance of the general and future fulfilment of His eternal purpose,
that fulfilment may begin at once.
IN all kinds of human affairs which call for planning, from planning
a new city to planning a military campaign, it is usual to find that the
planner fixes his final goal and then, as a guide to progress, fixes 'intermediate'
or 'short-term' goals, which represent stages on the road to complete fulfilment.
The attainment of God's full and universal purpose is not something which
[31/32] we mortals can easily visualise. But that
need not concern us too much, because the immediate goal on the road to His
having Christ fill all things is that Christ should fill me.
This, then, is why in his Ephesian epistle Paul switches, apparently
abruptly, from the sublime to the intensely practical -- from writing about
an eternal purpose to exhortations about loving one's wife or holding one's
tongue. For the second is the outworking of the first. The eternal purpose
is not something merely to be contemplated, or admired, or yearned for as
the remote and happy ending to a long, sad story. It is a practical directive
for everyday living. It is a daily challenge to every Christian: Does Christ
fill my life? Does He fill my home? Does He fill my work space?
Has my coming into this new situation brought Christ into it? If the answer
to all these questions is 'Yes', then the eternal purpose is moving forward
in the here and now. The end is sure, but the rate of progress towards that
end is speeded or slowed insofar as Christ fills our lives, today.
(To be continued)
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER THROUGH ROMANS
2. PERSONAL REMARKS (Chapter 1:8-15)
THE church in Rome were "the beloved of God". It is apparent from the
apostle's remarks later on in the letter that they were also his beloved.
He addresses them as "beloved" (12:19) and then calls one after another
of them: "my beloved" (16:5, 8-9). We must not give a sentimental or cheap
interpretation to these intense words. The love of which Paul speaks is
not that which springs from man; it is God's love. We are all objects of
that love, being "beloved of God" and we can love one another with that love,
in faith (Titus 3:15).
Paul's love for these saints expresses itself in gratitude for them and
longing for them: "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all".
Notice that Paul has a deep personal relationship to God, calling Him "
my God", though He was also theirs. This lets us know that he was
intimate with God, as a son with his Father. At the same time, though, he
never took it as a matter of course that he could so approach God, for he
emphasises that he thanks: "by Jesus Christ", that is, not directly but
through the Mediator between God and man. True New Testament boldness goes
hand in hand with deepest reverence.
HIS thanksgiving was due to the fact that their faith was proclaimed
throughout the whole world. The apostle's words do not imply praise of the
Romans, as though they had shown especially strong faith or anything like
that, but rather that the fact that they had now come to believe was appreciated
through the then-known world.
Paul could give thanks for the Romans even though they were not the fruit
of his work. He had preached the gospel from Jerusalem and round about, even
unto Illyricum, and had won many for the Lord. He rejoiced over each one
that he had been enabled to lead to Christ, but he could call God as his
witness that he felt the same for those whom others of the Lord's servants
had led into salvation. Paul was not a proselytizer: he did not gather to
himself but to the Lord. His service was unselfish. Therefore with a pure
spirit he could rejoice over the work of others and feel responsibility for
It is God whom he served in his spirit by preaching the gospel.
He placed his body at God's disposal and used it in accordance with what
he discerned to be the will of God. This is what he calls: "spiritual worship"
(12:1 margin), or serving God in the spirit. In this spiritual worship, intercession
forms a vital component. Just as the apostle could give thanks not only
for those whom he himself had won for Christ but also for those whom others
had won, so he was careful to mention in his prayers not only those whom
he had helped, but also others. The Romans were among these others. For
them, too, he prayed earnestly. [32/33]
FROM Paul's letters we get a clear impression of his prayer life. For
him prayer was not something to be practised when opportunity offered, but
was an integral part of his life. This is the reason why he uses the description:
"unceasingly". It is as if they lived in his heart. He had prayed for them
more than they had any idea of, and so he longed to come to them more than
they could realise.
It is not a selfish longing, but a faint reflection of that longing which
the Lord Jesus expressed when He said: "With desire I have desired to eat
this passover with you before I suffer" (Luke 22:15). At that meal, the Lord
intended to convey deep spiritual truths to His disciples, so preparing them
for the fulfilment later in the kingdom of God. Paul longed to see the Romans
so that he could impart to them some spiritual gift by which they would
be established. He greatly desired to share with them some of the riches
which he had found in Christ. It was not that he expected to help them to
obtain more spiritual gifts, but rather that he wanted them to have a share
in what he had himself received, for they were members of the same body.
By this mutuality of fellowship he knew that they would be established, or
strengthened; indeed he felt that their common faith would be an encouragement
both to them and to him. As he gave to them, he expected to receive from
them, and as they received from him, they would doubtless give back to him.
This is what is involved in being members of the same spiritual body.
HE goes on to say: "I would not have you ignorant that oftentimes I purposed
to come unto you (and was hindered hitherto), that I might have some fruit
in you also, even as in the rest of the Gentiles". His special phrase: "
I would not have you ignorant", shows that this was something which
he wished to emphasise. It rather contrasts with what is sometimes written
in Christian books about finding the will of the Lord and only moving as
a result of special guidance, for we read to our surprise that the apostle
sometimes made plans which he could not carry out. He does not hide this
matter of hindrance to his continued attempts to visit the friends in Rome,
but rather stresses it. This can be a great help to us. It may well be a
relief to find that the apostle's experience in this respect is similar to
ours. He laid his plans, and then added: "If it is the will of God
..." he will be prospered in this desire and prayer. Time and time again
he had tried to go but had been hindered, and appreciated that the hindrances
had been ultimately approved by God. It had proved not yet to be God's time.
This makes it clear that the one who really takes the initiative in the preaching
of the gospel is God Himself. It was He who had not yet considered the time
ripe for Paul to visit Rome, in spite of the apostle's burning desire to
have some fruit there also.
DOES this expression: "That I might have some fruit in you " surprise
us? Does it sound rather selfish and egoistic? Why should Paul have fruit
in Rome also? He himself explains this matter by confessing: "I am debtor
both to Greeks and to Barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So,
as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are
in Rome". It was not a selfish desire for more fruit which inspired the apostle,
but a sense of his own indebtedness. He considered himself in debt to the
Romans and wished to payoff this debt. Later in this letter he writes: "Owe
no man anything, save to love one another" (13:8). He felt himself to be in
that debt. He owed the Romans his love, and he wished to discharge his debt
by giving them the gospel in greater fullness.
That, then, was why he was ready to journey to Rome and preach the gospel
there. His readiness was not directed especially towards Rome or limited
to that destination, but an abiding attitude. As a result of being in debt
to everyone, he was ready to go anywhere where God gave him the opportunity
of repaying something of that indebtedness. It is a normal condition of a
servant of the Lord to be always ready.
3. THE GOSPEL (Chapter 1:16-17)
As Paul was dictating these sentences, he probably had in his thoughts
the enormous might of the Roman Empire and in his mind's eye saw the world
capital, the centre of this colossal power. From here the world was governed.
What could he hope to accomplish there? He had no power or influence. What
could any words of his hope to accomplish?
But then he thought of the gospel -- the gospel of God, which
he also called "my gospel" -- and a smile passed over his face, for
that gospel [33/34] is the power of God unto salvation.
It is true that Rome was full of the power of darkness. Here more than anywhere
else, satanic powers held sway. But that did not frighten Paul. He knew that
when he came he would come in the fullness of the blessing (15:29).
It was not a poor, pitiful message which he would bring, but the gospel of
God. What were all Rome's wisdom, power and demoniacal darkness in comparison
with that? There was not the slightest reason to be ashamed of the gospel.
THIS gospel is the power of God unto salvation. It does not only tell
about salvation; it brings salvation to all who receive it. When the gospel
is preached, whether in a world capital or in an insignificant village, the
power of God is active in saving efficacy. Salvation is a strong word.
Unfortunately it does not mean much to most people nowadays, because the fear
of God has disappeared. In Paul's day not only the Jews but also many God-fearing
people from other nations, knew that there was coming a day when everyone
would have to appear before God's judgment seat and receive his final sentence
from which there would be no appeal.
For everyone who realised the possibility of being lost on that day,
life held only one supreme question, namely, How can I be saved? Such a
one, like a drowning man or a person locked in a burning house, has but
one question: 'Is there anyone who can save me?' For the consciously lost,
all other questions, such as finding life's meaning, enjoying happiness,
feeling at peace, have no relevance. They do not concern him, for he is
occupied with the one consideration: How can I be saved? Such a one
does not only tremble in anticipation of some future moment of judgment,
but is aware here and now of the presence of the great Judge, and knows
that he cannot face the inevitable condemnation.
Paul goes on to explain that this saving gospel gives a revelation of
the righteousness of God. His thoughts are formed by the Old Testament,
which contains a host of references to explain to us that this righteousness
is the characteristic of God's nature. He can never act unrighteously. But
more, the Bible tells us that God intervenes actively to secure justice (or
righteousness) for His chosen. So this gospel expresses both sides of the
matter by saying that it retains righteousness as the characteristic of
His nature and also secures righteousness for those who have faith in Jesus:
"That he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith
in Jesus" (3:26). This comes to the sensitive conscience as a revelation.
It provides the divine solution to his acute problem. He who fears God knows
that He is righteous and can therefore never reduce His demands, but the gospel
proclaims that God remains righteous but also freely gives righteousness to
the believer. He has actively intervened for the salvation of His elect by
providing them with His own righteousness. This message is the power of God.
PAUL has already said that the gospel of God was promised in the Holy
Scriptures. Now for the first (but not for the last) time in this letter,
he gives us an example of the Old Testament promises: "As it is written:
but the righteous shall live by faith". In Habakkuk's prophecy (Habakkuk
2:4), he does not tell us anything about how the man of faith has been made
righteous. At first sight his words do not therefore seem to be particularly
evangelical. They were spoken in a situation where it looked as if God had
surrendered the people of Israel to the most impudent, dishonest world ruler
imaginable, and was making no attempt to intervene and save. The righteous,
however, without the support of any visible proofs, hopes confidently for
the righteousness of God and waits for Him. This is the thought which came
to Paul through Habakkuk. Confidence in God, in hope against hope, is what
characterises the righteous man. How he became righteous is left to be described
later in the letter. It did not happen through his own works, so that he could
have something to boast of, but was by faith in Jesus alone. What Paul finds
in Habakkuk is really this: He who is righteous shall live, and shall
live by his faith!
It is first and foremost the phrase: "from faith unto faith", which shows
how Paul profits from Habakkuk. By this he is saying that not only does faith
belong to the beginning stage of life with God, but that it will never be
possible for a man to arrive at any higher righteousness or any more advanced
spirituality than that of faith. That is to say, faith only leads on to
faith, and fundamentally never has anything else to support it than the
promises of God. It always finds itself in Habakkuk's position.
WHAT then does the apostle understand by faith? Is it a quality which
man has by nature? Is it the sincere person's contribution to salvation?
Is it faith which makes the gospel the power of God unto salvation? Paul
himself answers these questions with an emphatic negative. "So faith comes
of hearing , and hearing by the word of Christ" (10:17). It is not that
the sincere person comes to the gospel with his faith, but that the gospel
comes with faith to the hearer. Paul will not allow of any mixture of human
efforts with the gospel. Faith is not a contribution from man's side, but
a gift from God, an offer presented through the gospel. Nevertheless Paul
does not say that this offer cannot be rejected, or that the power of God
works automatically. The righteous, living by his faith, is freed from the
dominion of sin, death and Satan. He has become a citizen in the community
which is heavenly and eternal, possessing all things in Christ. He can stand
before God in judgment. This gospel is for the Jew first. This does
not mean that it is specially for the Jews, or even a special favour for
them, but that in God's plan of salvation it is offered to them first.
There is a widely accepted conception of this letter which makes justification
a part of salvation, a beginning step, and regards sanctification and glorification
as steps which follow later. Based on this idea, Romans is divided in such
a way that chapters one to five deal with justification, chapters six and
seven with sanctification and chapter eight with glorification. In my opinion
this is misleading, and implies something of Christianity by works, which
is directly opposed to Paul's purpose. I regard justification as salvation
in all its fullness, including in itself what is called sanctification and
what is called redemption. I propose, therefore, to consider the rest of
the letter as an expansion of this revelation of the righteousness from God
which is here associated with that gospel which is the power of God unto salvation
(To be continued)
"Let a man so account of us, as ministers of Christ,
and stewards of the mystery of God." (1 Corinthians 4:1)
A STEWARD is a man who, on the one hand, stands in a living relationship
to all that his lord has and, on the other hand, has an equally close relationship
to all those who look to his lord for the supply of their needs. So that
the steward is a very responsible person.
The Steward's Responsibility
The steward is responsible for the reputation of his master. What the
world knows of that master will very largely accord with the steward's character
and behaviour. What the world or the household receives of good and enrichment
will depend upon him. The apostle Paul spoke of himself as a steward, as
one who had been entrusted with such a task; but it is impressive to note
that he applies the term to the believers in the Corinthian Church also. We
can quite readily understand and appreciate that Paul should be a steward,
but when, he so addresses the members of the Corinthian assembly, bringing
them all in, that shows that the designation can be applied to very ordinary
believers. We cannot, therefore, evade the issue by saying: Well, that applies
to special people like Paul. It clearly applies also to the Corinthians and
ourselves, pressing the point that men should be able to regard us and take
account of us as stewards for God.
This speaks of something more than merely having a standing as believers.
We might perhaps think that the world must take account of us as Christians;
they will do that in any case if we make a profession of faith in Christ,
But this divine thought takes us much further. It brings us out into a place
of specific and definite responsibility in two connections: firstly to the
Lord, binding up the Lord's interest with us in an active way; secondly,
in a like practical way, to men. We are stewards, standing in a place between,
and with a responsibility in two directions. [35/36]
The Lord's people need to be reminded from time to time that there is
a tremendous responsibility resting upon everyone who is related to Him,
because that relationship ought never to be a passive one. It is not just
that the matter begins and ends with our claiming to be members of a family.
Membership of the household of faith is but one phase of truth, of the teaching
of God's Word. Believers are called by a variety of designations which do
not counter one another, being so many aspects of a whole, and not mutually
exclusive. For instance, in the case of earthly relationships, for one to
be a member of the family would preclude one from being the steward of the
household, but with the spiritual relationship it is not so. We have to keep
the family relationship in its place, recognising that it brings its own
obligations, but at the same time we must appreciate that we are given the
position of steward, with its special responsibilities. This holds good for
us all. It is God's thought for every believer that he should be a steward.
This leads us to several important considerations.
The Steward's Qualifications
A fact which should be very helpful to us is that all the Lord's dealings
with us are with the design of making us the kind of stewards which we ought
to be. A steward has to be qualified for his task. He must be a man of certain
definite characteristics. The fulfilment of his stewardship will demand experience.
He cannot step into a spiritual stewardship at will. There has to be a real
preparation, a real development and a real endowment for such an office.
If you read carefully the connection in Paul's mind between the stewardship
and its fulfilment, you will see that the connection is a very practical
and active one. He was conscious of the need of special enablement, special
gifts, special qualifications, and for such equipment he recognised the need
for special experiences. Stewardship is a matter of training, and deep training
In order to make us able stewards, the Lord takes us into many different
kinds of experiences, some of them extraordinary and unusual; such a variety
of experiences as come to none but His own people. No one else goes through
quite the same training, for they do not need it. Other people in the world
may go through certain sufferings which are similar; they may know the difficulty
of poverty, the difficulty of maintaining their position in the world; outwardly
there may be a similarity, but inwardly there are elements associated with
the experiences of believers which are peculiar. With the believer there
comes a challenge which others do not know and demands to be faced which do
not come to those who are not believers. Simply because we are the Lord's
servants we have to pass through discipline and face enemies; all this is
permitted by the Lord who is seeking to train us.
(1) An Experimental Knowledge of Need
To what end is this? We have already shown that what governs the Lord
in His dealings with us, His mysterious and strange dealings, His unique
permissions, is His design of making us stewards. These things are meant
because the steward must learn to know the needs of the people to whom he
is to minister. He must enter into the nature of men's needs. The man of God
is not just an official; he is not someone taken out of a crowd and put into
office with a daily task which can be learned by studying a manual. He has
to have a vital relationship with the whole position, and he must have a
living and experimental knowledge of the nature of the needs of those whom
he serves. Between him and the people to whom he is to minister his Master's
riches, there must be a sympathy of heart. He must know the variety of their
needs, for what must be given to one would be quite unsuitable for another.
He has to find, as a physician finds, that no two cases are exactly alike,
because no two temperaments are exactly alike. A dozen people may have the
same complaint, but it may be needful to treat each one differently because
of the different temperamental factors in each case. Just as the physician
takes not only the complaint but the individual into account, so it is with
the steward. He must be a man with a heart understanding.
The Lord deals with us in order that we may be able to minister in an
apt way. His stewards are to be men of understanding, so dealing with each
individual as to elicit the exclamation: 'That just fits me! That touches
my case! That steward must know by experience what it is like!' The Lord
always knows, and He would take us through such experiences as will communicate
this kind of knowledge to us, so that we may be capable dispensers of His
goodness. The Lord's way of training us is to take us through things first,
for who knows better how to help than the one who has already passed through
the same suffering? [36/37]
(2) An Experimental Knowledge of the Resources
Further, the steward has not only to understand the nature of the need
to be met, but he must also have a knowledge of the resources from which
he is to meet it. He must know the quality of that which is at his command,
the nature of it and the values that are in it. Here again, we can never
know the values of the things of God unless we have gone through experiences
in which we have put them to the test and proved them. No one really knows
the value of divine things who has not proved their power in his own life.
The stewardship of the gospel is something more than a New Testament
system of truth concerning God's grace. It is something more than a formula
of certain truths such as forgiveness of sins, justification by faith, and
all the other doctrines of the evangel. The stewardship of the gospel implies
that its power has become wrought into the very being of the steward, and
that the steward is himself rejoicing in the good of it. Such a steward can
come out of the treasure house and meet the household and those beyond, saying:
'I have something here of tremendous value; I am rejoicing in it myself; I
know it, and I can assure you that this is not the result of my studies and
gleaning from others, but comes from an up-to-date enjoyment of its benefits.'
What is true of the gospel is true of the many-sided mysteries of God.
That is another stewardship of which Paul speaks (Colossians 1:25). You
and I are led into the mysteries of God, into the depths, to discover those
secrets and to come out with the treasures of darkness. We may for a time
feel that all seems death and desolation, with poverty and starvation reigning
over us, but to come out with treasures from such dark experiences constitutes
a man a true steward of God's mysteries. Stewards are men and women who have
been through the dark and there discovered divine treasures which they are
afterwards able to pass on.
How much have you to dispense? Are you sure that you are dispensing what
you have? The Lord did not lead you through that trial, through that strange
experience, just for your own sake. He has not dealt with you as He has in
order that you should be shut up to yourself, to enjoy the result alone.
He has done what He has to constitute you a steward. If we will only allow
that fact to govern us in the days of difficulty and trial, it will help us
through. We should hold fast to the fact that the trial is meant to provide
enrichment for others and an increase of equipment and qualification for the
work of stewardship. There are so many who have a measure of spiritual wealth
and are not making it available to others. They have a knowledge of the Lord
which has come through experience, and if only they would get alongside of
others, they could impart to them some of the blessing and enrichment which
they have first received.
Ask the Lord to release you into your stewardship within your measure.
I am not thinking of an official, organised service which is artificial
and demands of you what you do not have to give, but of the possibility
of living contacts which God will give you with others. Children of God
may cross your path in dire need, and may all the time be looking for the
person who can help them. They may have been crying to the Lord to meet
their need, and you may be the one through whom God can answer their prayers.
If they cross your path and you only talk about all sorts of ordinary things,
then they will pass on their way unmet and you will have failed in your stewardship.
How sad if the chosen steward has disappointed those who had cried to the
Lord, yes, and disappointed the Lord also!
"It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful" (1 Corinthians
4:2). He must be faithful, though not necessarily eloquent, intellectual,
with a strong personality or any such special gifts. I believe that the greatest
virtue in the eyes of God is faithfulness; it embraces everything. Faithfulness
is something which is after God's own heart. Look at Paul the steward: "Demas
forsook me ... all forsook me" (2 Timothy 4:10 and 16) and marvel at his
steadfastness. He was left practically alone. He had more enemies than ever.
Even some of his former friends seem now to have become enemies. But there
is no thought, no suggestion, of giving up. His word is: "faithful unto death".
This steward was faithful. It was not that his life was being vindicated
up to the hilt. No, in some ways he seemed to be dying as a lonely man. But
-- as a true steward -- he was found faithful.
What enrichment, however, has come to us all because of that faithfulness!
All through the centuries men have been profiting from Paul's faithful stewardship
through many and deep discouragements. [37/38] His
work still goes on. It is typical of faithful stewardship that the steward
may be called away but his stewardship goes on. Faithfulness is always rewarded
beyond men's wildest dreams. We must not be downcast, if for the moment our
faithfulness involves us in an appearance of apparent failure. Our business
is to be good and faithful stewards.
PERSONAL TESTIMONY FROM M/V. LOGOS
I AM glad to have this opportunity to share a little of what has been
going on in my own heart and in the hearts of the helpers of twenty different
nations working on the Logos. We say in Operation Mobilisation that ours
is not only an evangelising but a training movement in which the Lord is
able to teach us spiritual lessons. May I pass on to you three of the lessons
which He has been trying to teach us in the past months?
1. To Trust with all our Hearts
The Lord has seemed to say to us: "My peace I give unto you. Let not
your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful" (John 14:27). We had
a serious crisis as we were entering the port of Istanbul in Turkey. We
had finished our breakfast and I had gone down to our little cabin with
my wife when suddenly we were aware of a big bump. I rushed to the porthole
and, as I looked through, to my horror I saw a man in the Bosphorus, struggling
to save his life. I ran up on to the deck, just in time to see that our
ship was pulling away from a ferry with which we had collided. We were in
the charge of a Turkish pilot who was on the bridge. The ferry, of course,
was also Turkish, and it should have given us the right of way. It had started
to do so and then, for some unknown reason it had moved on again and tried
to pass in front of us. Some of the passengers on the ferry had panicked when
they saw the Logos bearing down on them and had jumped into the water. By
the time I reached deck, however, these had all been rescued and no life
The moment our ship came alongside, it was impounded by the authorities.
For months we had prayed to get into Turkey; now we had arrived and it looked
as though we would not be able to leave. We were in a serious situation.
Had there been a death our Captain might well have been sent to prison. Even
so we were warned of large sums of money which we might have to pay as indemnity.
My heart was very heavy. For the moment I completely abandoned any vision
of a second ship, for this first one was threatened with vast new expense.
That night I could not sleep. I usually sleep very soundly. In fact when
I am asked if I have any special gift, I generally reply that my gift is the
gift of sound sleep. But I kept wondering what would happen to us. How much
might this business cost? How long might we be delayed? I can assure you
that those days took such a heavy toll of many of us that we have not yet
got rid of its after-effects. It was that night, however, that in a new way
I cast my burden upon the Lord. I told Him that I could not bear it and that
He must take it for me.
This, of course, He did, and in a marvellous way. We praise God for the
wonderful impact on a young man through this very incident. Things got better
and better as time went on. Originally we had wondered how we could possibly
last for ten days in that port, but in fact we were there for three weeks,
and we finally left with a tremendous sense that God was really in control
and with the consequent deep peace which comes to hearts which really trust.
The court case is still going on, but we were able to pursue our scheduled
journey. This was one lesson to teach us to trust. This is no easy lesson,
and it is not something which we learn once and for all. We have to learn
over and over again how the peace of the Lord Jesus comes to those whose
hearts really trust him.
2. To Call upon the Authority of Christ
"He said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? have ye not yet faith? And
they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, Who then is this, that
even the wind and the sea obey him?" (Mark 4:40-41). When you are in a worship
meeting, repeatedly occupied with the wonders of what the Scriptures have
to say about the Deity of Christ, the authority of Christ and the transcendence
of Christ, have you ever struggled with the problem of the great gap between
what [38/39] we say and the actual situation? Take,
for instance, the fact that there are Muslim countries which apparently do
not contain one single believer. We maintain, and rightly, that Christ has
all authority, and yet there is much in the world situation which could deeply
depress us, for there seems no evidence of this power of His. Now I do not
pretend to have all the answers, but it does seem to me that the Church has
responsibility over this matter. We have an omnipotent God who is in control,
with all power, and who is waiting and longing to demonstrate this power,
but who is looking to the channel which He Himself has chosen for this purpose,
namely the Church of believers in Christ. God is able to demonstrate His power,
but He does not want to act apart from the co-operation of His people. He
wants us to respond that He can show His power through us. "What manner of
man is this?" The disciples were being prepared to be an instrument for demonstrating
and releasing the power and authority of Christ. This is our calling too.
After Turkey we in the Logos went on to Egypt. It seemed impossible that
we could ever visit that country. When our prayer for Egypt began it seemed
that everything was impossible. There was such an intricacy of problems in
the realm of government departments that it was hard to believe that we
should ever make it. But prayer continued. Then the problem arose about finding
a place in the port of Alexandria. Owing to the tensions and conflicts in
that area the port was jammed and some ships had been waiting for weeks to
get a berth. What hope was there for little Logos? We prayed on. Then news
came that a berth had been obtained in a very remote corner of the port, in
an area which was surrounded by rubbish. This meant that we had a berth but
no way of getting the people in to visit us. Indeed there seemed no chance
of this anyhow, since for years none of the general public had been allowed
into the port because of its military importance. In the strained relationships
between Israel and Egypt, the authorities had naturally closed the port of
Alexandria to visitors. To have opened it might have admitted spies, or
given opportunity for photographers. If war had broken out it was obvious
that Alexandria would be the first target for Israeli bombers. The only thing
to do was to get back to prayer, claiming the authority of the Lord Jesus
in the matter of admission of the general public and an opportunity to sell
books. I could give you ten major impossibilities which faced us as we prayed,
and rejoice to tell you that everyone of them was overcome through the use
of the mighty name of Jesus.
We came straight from Turkey to Egypt. When we approached the port of
Alexandria we found that the ship had been allotted a berth at the Main Passenger
Terminal -- the most beautiful berth in the whole port. We were given the
reason for this favour, and it was that since the Governor of Alexandria
was due to open the book exhibition on the Logos, the best berth had been
made available to us for two days. So we could count on being away from the
derelict area for two days, just long enough for the official opening of
our exhibition. After that we must expect to be moved. We tried to get news
round to the Christians of the area but none of the pastors of the local churches
would even convey to their members our invitation to visit the ship. They
refused to pass on the publicity because they were convinced that nobody would
be allowed entry into the port area. Brothers and sisters, to the glory of
God I am glad to report that we were never moved from that favoured jetty
for the whole period of our stay in Alexandria, and during that time some
twenty-seven thousand people visited Logos. The people came through the gates,
on to the ship, saw around, received literature, and then went out back again
through the dock gates. All this was because people were praying. We had no
human influence, no ingenuity, no bribing, but simply an appeal to the sovereign
authority of Christ. The Lord was teaching us in this way that we must learn
to call upon that authority. It is released through the faith, prayer and
obedience of believers. I can only begin to imagine what might happen if
the Church got on to its knees and began to invoke the power of that Name
in believing prayer.
3. To Cultivate a Sense of our own Weakness
The book of 2 Corinthians is fast becoming my favourite reading, and
this is because in it the apostle speaks much of his own weakness. I find
myself, with Paul, wanting to glory in my own weakness. "For we which live
are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus
may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life
in you" (2 Corinthians 4:11-12). The working of death in us is God's wonderful
way of bringing life to others. I believe that the longer we go on in
[39/40] a walk with the living Christ, the deeper becomes our experience
of death. I must resist the temptation to tell you of how I found death working
in me, and content myself with a few observations.
For my own part there is nothing that I would like better than to get
out of Christian work. I feel a great desire totally and finally to be free
of it all. I have been to enough countries; I have seen enough places; I
have spoken in enough churches; and have had enough broadcasting on radios.
I want to go home! If I am quite honest I have to confess that the longer
I am in Christian work, the greater contrast do I discover between the direction
in which I want to go and the direction which is God's will for me. Here is
an example. Six months ago we were planning to return to England and George
Verwer was very excited about a tour of British ports so that friends could
visit the ship. I was very opposed to this project. I said to him: 'No, George,
the ship is too small. Whatever plans you make we just cannot win.' My reason
for this strong dissent was that Logos is such a small ship. It is only
269 feet long. It is quite impossible to get thousands of people on board
in a short time. In their minds people think of a ship in terms of ordinary
liners. But wait till they see the Logos. If they find it berthed alongside
a ship like the BELFAST they would ask: 'Is that all it is?' Why there are
ships in the world today whose lifeboats are bigger than the Logos!
I thought of the time when thousands came to view us at Liverpool. One
night I was going out into a shed and met an Anglican vicar in whose church
I had preached the previous Sunday. He recognised me, so he grabbed me and
protested: 'George, we have come all the way from Manchester. We arrived
at 7 and it is now 9:30 and none of our people has yet been on the ship.
When can we get on? There is still a big queue.' Now I felt sorry for him,
but you will appreciate that each group takes some time to go over the ship.
We could shorten the time by letting them see less, but then we would have
complaints. 'I want to see the engine-room. Why can't we go below decks?
Complaints! Do you know what happens at a time like this? You find yourself
asking: 'Why am I doing this? Why? It's so crazy. There are so many other
things that I might be doing. But this! What is it all about?' May I say
that my wife and I live in a tiny cabin on the Logos, and it is not surprising
that at every port she asks me the same question: 'George, can we go away
for a few days while we are here?' I keep saying that I hope so, but somehow
it never happens. She says to me: 'I want to see something green', and I
have to reply: 'Honey, the Lord has called us to the blue and not to the green'.
The next thing I notice is that there is one more plant in the cabin, so
this shows that she has her own way of getting a sight of something green.
At such times, though, we come back to the basic realities of the Christian
life. This life has as its foundation the fact that Jesus is the Boss! The
simple question must be, not 'what do I want?' but 'what does He want?' I
know that in my life God is working to make me a channel -- and He is doing
this for us all. We are meant to be channels of His grace, but the important
feature of a channel is that it must not become blocked up. If there are
such blockages, then the flow is hindered. Now the great cause of blockage
is self, and it is by the cross that the Lord seeks to bring this self strength
to death. I do not know what the idea of 'death' means to you, but I know
that if you are experiencing vital spiritual life, then it can only be by
way of death working in you. Jesus went to the cross, and He did it for
the joy set before Him. In my own experience also I can testify to knowing
death and at the very same time to indescribable joy. If I think of the
Logos, I have to confess that I have never experienced more crucifixion than
I have known on board that ship. Yet at the same time I must insist that
I have never experienced such overflowing joy and such rich fulfilment. The
two go together.
It is so easy for the Christian life to become selfish. The question
so often is, What do I get out of it? What blessing is there for me? What
advantages can I get from following Christ? Can I get help? Can I be strengthened?
This is fatal to the flow of life, for God's fullness only flows in as it
has a way of flowing out. On the Logos we are weak, and we are glad to be
weak, for Jesus died for weak people, He rose again for weak people, He lives
in weak people. As I stand up in His name I know that the Lord Jesus stands
with me. I would rather walk the way Jesus walks than have anything which
this world could possibly give me. Jesus walked to the cross, but He walked
on to the empty tomb and to the demonstration of the resurrection power of
God. So it is worth having death working in me provided that makes possible
a ministry of life to others. [40/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
INSPIRED PARENTHESES (6)
"(for he was naked)" (John 21:7)
EVEN if John had been just writing his reminiscences we might wonder
why he chose to interpolate this blunt reminder that Peter only had on a
minimum of clothing. But this is no ordinary narrative. This is nothing
less than the inspired Word of God. Why, then, was this homely detail recorded?
Is this parenthesis really an inspired one? If so, what is it meant to teach
For my part I can only suggest two explanations. One is that we must
take note of the fact that Peter was really working hard -- he was stripped
for the job. The other is to stress the fact that for all his excitement,
he was careful to greet his Lord in a respectful manner. He covered himself
before plunging into the water.
IT is possible for us to criticise Peter's decision to go fishing, but
there is no evidence that the Lord did so. On the contrary, He deliberately
chose to manifest Himself to these seven men, and gave Peter a challenging
but inspiring interview which he surely never forgot. As yet the apostles
had no message to give to the world, nor at that time had they been commanded
to tarry at Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high. It
seems, therefore, to their credit that they mounted this expedition in order
to keep themselves honourably as working men. We may remark that the four
disciples who did not go (perhaps because they were landsmen), missed a most
Peter took his coat off for the job. Even though the night had been an
unproductive one and they had not had a single catch until Jesus spoke to
them, Peter was still stripped for action. And when the miraculous catch
came, he was ready to take his full share in drawing in the net. The Holy
Spirit seems to draw our attention to this. When there is nothing doing we
so often lose heart. We tend to roll down our sleeves, resume our coats and
either give up or let somebody else get on with the task. Peter had his coat
off, even at the end of a disappointing' night. The more honour to him. The
Lord appeared in order to bless workers, not dreamers.
IF at the end of the dark night of this dispensation, the cry should
suddenly go out, as it did then, "It is the Lord", I would like to be found
with my coat off, fully committed to the task in hand, and I believe that
the Lord would be pleased to find me so. In any case it took but an instant
to put on the coat. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, we shall put
on our garment of immortality and hurry off to meet our beloved Lord.
THE Lord Jesus welcomed Peter. He had a lovely talk over his future,
with barely a reference to his past. The truth was that Peter had been a
complete failure. He had failed as a follower; he had failed as a friend;
and now he had even failed as a fisherman. Should he keep his coat off and
struggle on to achieve some little success to lay at his Master's feet? Or
should he dress himself and come with all his failure to the One who knew
all things and knew that he, Simon son of John, loved Him?
He did the latter, and he found -- as we can all do -- that the Lord
has a tender love for those who know themselves to be failures. He wants
us, not our labours: He loves us, even though we can offer Him no proofs
of our love to Him. So Peter came eagerly. But he came respectfully. He put
on his coat. To him Jesus was approachable and gracious, but He was nevertheless
worthy of suitable reverence. Not the least feature of this incident is the
fact that the Lord had a glorious future in mind for Peter. If we come to
Him in humble reverence, we shall find that the same can be true in our case.
"THEY THAT SOW IN TEARS SHALL REAP IN JOY."
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