|Vol. 7, No. 6, Nov. - Dec. 1978
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
NOT long ago a friend who wrote appreciatively of this magazine asked
if I could occasionally include some notes about new books. Normally I do
not feel competent to do this, but now a book called JONI has come into my
hands and I must take the opportunity to recommend it very highly, especially
to sufferers. In it a girl tells of how at seventeen she found herself with
a broken back as the result of an accident while diving. Her life was miraculously
saved, but the result of the blow on her head was that she became an incurable
quadraplegic who has no feelings or movement below her neck. Suffering from
extreme helplessness, she passed through agonizing emotions till at last
she found full rest of heart in the One she already new as Saviour. The whole
story is a remarkable testimony to the sufficiency of the love of Christ
in the fiercest of trials.
I was greatly moved at the way in which she came to realise the perfect
sympathy of the Lord Jesus in every circumstance. Many of us, with much lighter
afflictions, find this a truth which is sometimes hard to grasp. This, however,
is what she writes: "I discovered that the Lord Jesus could indeed empathise
with my situation. On the cross for those agonising, horrible hours, waiting
for death, He was immobilised, helpless, paralysed. Jesus did know what
it was like not to be able to move -- not to be able to scratch your nose,
shift your weight, wipe your eyes. He was paralysed on the cross.
He could not move His arms or legs. Christ knew exactly how I feel." (
Page 96 )
The story covers nine years and contains some very important spiritual
principles which Joni Eareckson learned in the fires of affliction. Humanly
speaking, she owed everything to fellowship; not only the great kindness
and care of many friends, but the spiritual fellowship in the Word which
came from friends and family. As is so often the case, she had to pass through
the experience when well-meaning Christians persuaded her into almost demanding
healing and then feeling aggrieved with the Lord because she did not get
it. "You're twisting God's arm," her sister wisely told her. Still she was
unwilling to refrain from telling God what His will must be until Steve,
an amazingly mature Christian student, again brought her help from the Word.
When she was insisting that he should have faith for her to be healed he
replied: "I believe it's God's will for everyone to be healed. But maybe
we just can't agree as to timetable. I believe it is His will, but apparently
it doesn't have priority over other things. You will be healed, but probably
not till you receive your glorified body." (Page 177)
Having found perfect rest in the will of God, Joni has a powerful testimony
to others. This is what she says about eternal values: "Eye hath not seen,
nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of men, the things which
God hath prepared for them that love Him. Sometimes I recall experiences
of feeling -- of running through grassy fields, swimming in a cool, clear
stream, climbing up a rugged mountain, riding a horse -- all the sensations
I'd have on my feet. But God says that all of this together cannot compare
with the glory and future reality He has prepared for me. The only thing we
can take to heaven is our character. Our character is all we have to determine
what kind of being we will be for all eternity. It's what we are that will
be tested by fire. Only the qualities of Christ in our character will remain."
Joni makes no secret of her descents into unbelief and despair, but she
makes it very clear that her deliverances and triumphs were a direct result
of the working in her of the Word of God. This book is a remarkable testimony
to the supreme value of the Holy Scriptures at all times. As you read it
you will find how wonderfully the Bible helped Joni to find her all-sufficiency
in Christ. She closes with a moving assertion that all the years of agony
will have been well worthwhile to her if even only one person came to trust
in Christ through her testimony. This is the spirit which we should all have
as we, too, "run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto
Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith." [101/102]
THE RICHES AND THE ENRICHMENT OF THE CHURCH
IN THE PLACE OF PRAYER
J. Alec Motyer
Reading: 2 Chronicles 20:1-30
THERE may be some (though I doubt it) who would deny that there are resources
and dimensions in prayer which remain unexplored, potentialities which are
still unused. I feel sure that there is no church whose resources in prayer
are not still largely untapped. It is a point on which most of us would admit
great inadequacy. Many would be prepared to agree that their ministry would
be more vital and their life richer if they prayed more. Unhappily it is
true that whenever the question of prayer is raised among believers, hardly
any time passes before the objection is made that of course there are other
things we must do beside praying, but it is equally true that such people
have very rarely prayed themselves to a standstill. Most of us feel that
it would be fine to belong to a Church where such an objection only arose
because all that could be done through prayer was exhausted.
I would like to suggest that this marvellous story about Jehoshaphat
is a real enticement to pray. In the Scriptures there are all sorts of commandments
to pray, but sometimes the mind becomes weary and responds no more to commands.
Let us leave commandments and even invitations to pray and see if the Word
of God will not hang out before us an enticing little morsel which will act
as a bait. This is what the story does to me. I am sure that there are many
other truths in a passage so rich and full as this, but we will content ourselves
with allowing it to draw us by its sheer attractiveness, so that we may
be drawn enthusiastically and with anticipation of good into the place where
God hears and answers prayer. We pick out certain facts which show us the
riches and the enrichment of the Church in the place of prayer.
1. Prayer's Effectiveness
See how the story begins and how it ends. "There came some that told
Jehoshaphat, saying, There cometh a great multitude against thee ... and
Jehoshaphat feared" (vv.2, 3) was the beginning of the chapter but at the
end we are told: "The Lord made them to rejoice over their enemies, and
the fear of God was on all the kingdoms of the countries" (vv.27 & 29).
This was an amazing transformation. At the commencement the enemies of the
people of God were triumphant while that people was in fear, whereas at the
end of the story the enemies had been dispersed and the people of God were
triumphant, with the surrounding nations alarmed at such evidence of the
power of God at work in Israel. And all they did was to pray! The simple
but impressive link between the beginning and the end of the story is that
the king mobilised the people to the place of prayer.
2. Prayer's Priority
We notice the absolute priority of prayer in God's scheme of things.
As a matter of fact Jehoshaphat was a considerable soldier who had gathered
great military resources into his kingdom. At the time of chapter 20, even
though he was afraid, he was by no means without military strength. We know
by 17:12-14 that he had built fortifications, amassed armaments and was able
to number brave and efficient armies. Now we know from the Scriptures that
God does not disdain to allow His people to use the resources which He has
let them have, and we know how He made use of the military skill of Joshua
and the armies of David, even casting Himself in the role of Commander-in-Chief.
Even on this occasion He gave the command: "Go ye down against them" (v.16),
giving no indication that He disapproved of Jehoshaphat's military skill and
resources for normal occasions.
This time, however, the Lord allowed Jehoshaphat and the people to see
that although they had a force which could be mustered against another military
force, He put their army to one side and directed their attention to a different
kind of power. He wanted to teach them the priority of the place of prayer
and to remind them that He is not dependent on human resources. The power
of God on behalf of His people is not commensurate with those powers which
He Himself allows His people to have at any given time. The real power, the
totally effective power against the armies of the aliens, was not the military
power of Israel but their power in the place of prayer.
Without such prayer all would be lost. "Hearken unto me all Judah ...
Thus saith the Lord unto you ... the battle is not yours but God's" (v.15).
This is why the power of prayer is the power above all powers, without which
nothing can be done -- the battle is not yours! If this battle were yours,
then by all means you should take your army, face your enemy and go out and
fight. But it is not yours! The battle is God's, and therefore the only way
to conduct it is to get Him involved. Get Him on your side. Mobilise the
heavenly forces. Oh, how God wants to show His people the priority of prayer
in the battles of the Church. Without it all is lost, but with it, with
the power of prayer, God acts in sovereign freedom to bring us victory.
3. Prayer's Liberty
It is wonderful to note the liberty we may have in prayer. Jehoshaphat
was really in this trouble by reason of his own sinfulness. Like all believers
Jehoshaphat had a besetting sin, and in his case it was the sin of compromise.
He loved making alliances and treaties and meddling in other people's wars.
"Jehu the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest
thou help the wicked, and love them that hate the Lord? For this thing wrath
is upon thee from before the Lord" (19:2). Even after this great experience
of Berachah he returned to his old failing, as can be seen at the end of
chapter 20. In spite of the signal victory which God granted him, he went
back again to his besetting sin.
What can a man do when his sin has not only brought him into trouble
but into the particular trouble of coming under the wrath of God? He can
still pray. Although his folly has alienated the face of God from him, the
amazing fact is that he can still pray. That is the liberty which we have
in prayer. That is the kind of God He is. I don't know who said it, but
I have written in the margin of my Bible: "The only way to flee from God
is to flee to Him". That is what God is like. So Jehoshaphat can come into
the place of prayer, and into the place of effective prayer, as the story
reveals. There is an open-swinging door which ever invites us to
Come, and come again to Thee,
With this, the empty sinner's only plea --
Thou lovest me.
4. Prayer's Discipline
"Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek unto the Lord; and he proclaimed
a fast throughout all Judah" (v.3). That phrase "set himself" is a very vivid
one. It means that he gave his face to seek the Lord. That is to say, he
disciplined himself to become detached from all else that might preoccupy
him to concentrate his gaze on the Lord, and this devoting of himself to exclusive
attention to the Lord took the form of fasting. God expects us to set ourselves
to look to Him alone and to take whatever measures we must in order to detach
ourselves from the occupations and preoccupations of the day in order to
be with Him. This is certainly true in the case of whole-time Christian workers,
and it may be so in the world of all Christian believers. We spend our lives
sacrificing the best for the sake of the good. We would agree that we sometimes
sacrifice the good and the best for what is wrong, but leaving that aside
for the moment, we fill our lives with so many good things that we haven't
time for the best. And the best demands the discipline of prayer.
If you study the example of the Lord Jesus you will discover that He
knew how to say, "No". He saw a multitude coming to Him, but He said, "No",
and went into the mountain to pray. The apostles also learned how to say
"No". We read in Acts 6 that when it was brought to their attention the
fact that the Church was facing an acute need in the social realm because
of needy folk being neglected, the apostles refused to get entangled. They
speedily set about organising somebody else to do the work, saying that they
must stick to their task of prayer and the ministry of the word. Brethren,
we live by demands when we should live by priorities. We must learn to discipline
ourselves and never sacrifice the best for the sake of the good, never yield
to demands at the expense of God's priorities.
We see here the element of detachment: "Jehoshaphat set himself to seek
unto the Lord; and he proclaimed a fast ..." (v.3). We have forgotten how
to fast. We are so afraid of the misuse of fasting in a supposed heaping
up of merit before God that we have thrown out the use along with the abuse.
We are such a unity of spirit mind and body that the detachment of the body
from the pace of life brings with it detachment of mind and separation unto
the will of God. Hence the value of fasting.
5. Prayer's Fellowship
Jehoshaphat surrounded himself with a praying fellowship. Some told him,
and he speedily told [103/104] others, with the result
that "Jehoshaphat stood in the congregation" (v.4) and "All Judah stood before
the Lord, with their little ones, their wives and their children" (v.13).
This points on to the blessed institution of the Prayer Meeting. We find
that Jehoshaphat did not bear the prayer burden alone, but engaged in that
most delightful of all forms of prayer, praying with a praying band. Do you
know that delight? I admit that it is sometimes very hard to pray in a large
Prayer Meeting, but do you know the delight of praying with a group of praying
Jesus had a special benediction for that kind of praying group. "There
am I in the midst," He affirmed, having already promised that if two agree
on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, "It shall be done for
them of my Father ..." (Matthew 18:19). Notice His emphasis on My
Father. You feel that He is letting you into the family circle. He does not
say just your Father, but My Father. "I know what He is like.
I am here to tell you about Him. I can assure you that He just loves to honour
the united prayer of His people."
James indicates that we should always have somebody with whom we can
pray confidentially, somebody to whom a thing is told not for the purposes
of tittle-tattle but for concerted prayer. And James tells us that there
is healing in that context (James 5:16). When hearts are opened and confidences
given and received in the place of prayer, then God's healing power is at
It is not for me to belabour you, but may I ask if you go to your church
Prayer Meeting? Maybe you say that you are past it, too old to get out at
that time of night. Well, do you invite an elderly friend to come in and
pray with you during the morning? Or do we just allow the passing years to
edge us out of the place of prayer? Sometimes young people argue that they
cannot join in that Prayer Meeting for everybody is so old. What a feeble
excuse! How old is God? What a blessing you are missing. See here the wisdom
of Jehoshaphat in associating himself with a praying fellowship. They started
in the place of fear and they ended in the place of triumph; and all they
did was pray.
6. Prayer's Access
There are here a lovely set of expressions: He set himself, he gave his
face "to seek unto the Lord" (v.3). They gathered themselves together "to
seek help from the Lord" (v.4) and "they came to seek the Lord" (v.4). There
are three distinct expressions: "To seek unto the Lord", "To seek
from the Lord" and "To seek the Lord". They all speak of access,
but indicate different motives in the access. Although the word "seek" is
the ordinary verb of looking for something you have lost, it is not so used
in this first expression; nevertheless it conveys the idea of earnest deliberation.
It is not that you have lost the Lord. You know very well where He is; but
you seek unto Him with that same determination that you would use
if you were searching for a precious thing which you had lost. It reminds
us of the determination with which the Church should come into His presence.
The second expression does not have the word "help" in the Hebrew, but
simply speaks of seeking from the Lord. Seeking in fact whatever
He would like to give -- because it is all in Him. The praying Church should
keep in view the glorious truth that all the resources are in God and that
He will dispose of them out of His infinite bounty according to the requirements
of His sovereign purpose at the given time. The third expression tells of
access just for the sake of being near to Him. They seek the Lord. They are
in great trouble and just want to be where He is. He is their Friend. They
may not even want to say anything to Him in this moment of need, they may
be unable to speak, but they just want to be near their Friend, in the sure
confidence that He both understands and sympathises. The people of God are
bruised with anticipation of trouble, so they seek the Lord. They just want
to be where He is. That is the access which prayer gives us.
So we have the story of a people who began with fear and ended with praise,
the explanation being this six-fold blessedness of the place of prayer. We
see that this place is:
i. A Place of Revelation. "Then upon Jahaziel ... came the Spirit
of the Lord in the midst of the congregation; and he said ..." (vv.14-15).
Do you ever complain to yourself that you are getting nothing out of your
Bible reading? Actually that cannot be true. To prove it may I ask you what
you had for your dinner last Wednesday week? You can't remember? Does that
mean that it did you no good? Of course not. Don't misunderstand and confuse
blessing [104/105] with consciousness of blessing.
Feeding on the Word is not like retaining in your memory what was yesterday's
menu. It is richer than that. To change the metaphor, the Word is not only
like a street lamp or a car lamp -- it is also like a sun-ray lamp. It has
healing in its rays. Every time we come before God's Word it ministers deep-ray
therapy to us. We cannot come before this potent Book and depart unblest.
So may I suggest that if you are not finding the Word of God giving you living
revelation, that you first bring it into the place of prayer. While it is
true that we sometimes need the Word in order to lead us into prayer, it
may also be necessary to reverse the order, reminding ourselves that although
this Word is so marvellous, it will remain dark to us unless we seek God
ii. A Place of Transformation. The people were utterly transformed
by coming into the place of prayer. "They stood up to praise the Lord, the
God of Israel, with an exceedingly loud voice" (v.19). They went in fearful
and they came out praiseful. Just watch that praise! It begins in the place
of prayer but it is carried over into the place of battle (v.21) and it continues
through into the place of victory (v.26). There is always this blessed "bonus"
of transformation for those who work at prayer. We go into the place of
prayer to give worship to God and to effect things in the world, seeking
His activity on behalf of our friends and family and church, to find that
God not only acts for us but gives us His royal bounty of transforming grace
in our own lives. Jesus went up into the mountain to pray "and as he was
praying, the fashion of his countenance was altered ..." (Luke 9:29).
iii. A Place of Accomplishment. "When they began to sing and to
praise, the Lord set liers in wait against the children of Ammon, Moab and
Mount Seir ... and they were smitten" (v.22). All they did was to pray!
Yet the enemy was completely overthrown. We do not know whether the "liers
in wait" were another army which unexpectedly came on the scene. The Lord
has every potentiality at His disposal and it may be that there was an unknown
enemy waiting there by divine providence. Or He may have brought angelic
forces into play. It does not matter. God works providential miracles and
He works miracles! "When Judah came to the watchtower of the wilderness,
they looked upon the multitude; and behold they were dead bodies fallen to
the earth, and there were none that escaped" (v.24). What is more, the people
were enriched (v.25), the Lord was glorified (v.26) and the world was impressed
(v.29). Here is a four-fold harvest to be reaped by answered prayer. Are
these four things happening in your church? Is the enemy being defeated?
Are the people being enriched? Is God glorified? Is the world impressed?
We work hard to achieve these four ends, using all manner of efforts to bring
them to pass, and over and over again we find that our methods do not work.
Perhaps our disappointing failure or our only partial success will be God's
means to bring us more into the place of prayer. That is still God's priority
for His Church.
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER THROUGH ROMANS
14. LIFE IN THE SPIRIT (Chapter 8:1-11)
THE law always speaks about our work. The gospel speaks about the work
of God or "the mighty works of God". In chapter seven, together with the
apostle we moved within the sphere of the law and were exposed as wretched
people. We were occupied with our work and we reached an impasse.
Now without any connecting link whatever with chapter seven, Paul proclaims
the gospel, saying: "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that
are in Christ Jesus". Why this abrupt opening? Because there is no link between
the law and the gospel; you cannot glide from law to grace. A total break
with one is essential to the one who would see and lay hold of the other.
Earlier the writer said: "But now apart from the law (that is, without works
of law on our part) a righteousness of God hath been manifested, being witnessed
by the law ..." (3:21). In chapter seven he has shown that this righteousness
is not improved or sustained through any works of law on our part, but on
the contrary is in danger of disappearing if such [105/106]
efforts are made. There is no contribution which works, even Christian
works, can make to the divine power of the gospel.
Paul now leaves the first person singular. When he wrote about the power
of sin in the flesh, he felt himself to be the chief of sinners and would
not mask that fact by using the plural. Now, however, as he is writing about
salvation, he does not feel himself to be the greatest of those saved, so
he changes to the first person plural. It is true that some manuscripts use
the word "me" in verse 2, but others do not, and in any case he does not
hesitate to record that the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made even
him free from the law of sin and death.
Having already told us that we should reckon ourselves to be "alive unto
God in Christ Jesus" (6:11) and proclaimed that the free gift of God is eternal
life in Christ Jesus our Lord (6:23), Paul now proceeds to give us a thorough
description of this life in Christ Jesus. He begins with an assurance that
"there is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus"
and closes with the assertion "there will be no separation from the love
of God in Christ Jesus our Lord". Life in Christ Jesus is the same as life
in the Spirit, so it is not surprising that the Spirit, who until now has
only been mentioned sporadically, is referred to about twenty-five times
in Chapter 8. This emphasises that we no longer have to do with the law and
our own works, but with Christ and His living power.
FOR those who are in Christ Jesus there can be no condemnation, since
there can certainly be no condemnation for Him. In any case, the only one
who has the right to condemn them is the Christ who has died for them, and
in His risen glory intercedes for them instead of condemning them. For those
who are in Christ Jesus condemnation as a reality cannot exist, but this
does not mean that on occasions they may not feel condemned. Freedom
from condemnation is linked with being free from the law of sin and death
(v.2) and there are times when we do not feel that this is so. Can it be,
then, that when we do not sin there is no condemnation, but that condemnation
comes upon us when we err in thought, word or deed? If this were so, surely
none of us would enjoy the true liberating power of the gospel in our consciences,
and especially those who are more sensitive would suffer constant hurt. We
must go back to the clear statement of God's Word which is that "the law
of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of
sin and death". This is not a promise for the future but a statement of what
has already happened. It is not the believer's work but the work of Christ
for him. And it is finished!
At this time Paul did not know the Roman Christians personally. He only
knew that they belonged to the Lord. Since this was so, however, he also
knew that they were set free from the law of sin and death, for this is what
the death of the Lord Jesus has secured for all Christians. "For what the
law could not do, God did ..." (verse 3 Danish), "... sending his own
Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, condemned
sin in the flesh ...". Here is a wealth of gospel truth compressed into the
shortest possible form.
It was impossible for the law to set us free from the law of sin and
death. Although in itself spiritual and perfect, it was powerless because
of the flesh. Its appeal calls forth sin even in the best disposed person,
indeed even in a Christian. The gospel of God, however, is good tidings
to slaves telling them what God has done to set them at liberty. He did
it when He sent His Son "in the likeness of sinful flesh", that is, He sent
the Son into sin's own domain, for the flesh is sin's domain, where sin reigns
undisturbed and has all men in its power. Note, though, that the apostle
does not say that God sent His Son in sinful flesh, for there was no sin
in the last Adam; but chooses the expression "in the likeness of sinful
flesh" to stress that the Son of God became fully and completely a man,
subject to human conditions, and so went into the area ruled over by sin
and death to conquer them in their own home ground. The apostle adds: "and
for sin" (Danish , "for the sake of sin") and by His sacrificial death
"condemned sin in the flesh". The thought is that those who are in Christ
Jesus cannot be under condemnation, for the sin which would condemn them
has itself been condemned by the cross, so that its former slaves have now
been set free from its tyranny. This is what God has done for those who
are "in Christ Jesus".
PAUL pictures sin and man as two adversaries in a court of law. The Judge
is God and so the sentence is not open to appeal. Man is represented by the
Man Christ Jesus, who came in the likeness of sinful flesh, was exposed to
all the attacks of sin, but completely triumphed. All [106/107]
sin's demands upon man are therefore rejected. The sentence pronounced
is that man is acquitted while sin is condemned. The sentence goes against
sin: it is condemned. Christ, however, is completely exonerated: He is guiltless.
It therefore follows that there can be no condemnation for those who are
It is noteworthy that the Danish translators speak of a "death sentence
upon sin in the flesh". The court case had to end either with a death sentence
upon man or a death sentence upon sin. Christ won the case for man, who is
consequently not sentenced to death but fully acquitted. Man, guilty in
himself and with no other expectation than that of condemnation unto death
, receives in Christ the opposite sentence, acquittal or justification
unto life, whereas it is sin which receives the death sentence.
This is what lies behind Paul's expression: "the law of the Spirit of
life" (v.2). From his own experience, he speaks of your standing in a court
of law opposed by an accuser (sin) which has all the arguments on its side
and, being unable to offer a defence, you await with horror the apparently
inevitable death sentence. Then Christ steps forward and presents your case.
You are acquitted, indeed you are fully justified, and you are led out of
the court not to be executed but to live -- you are "justified unto life"
(5:18). It is like being led from hell to heaven, from despair to joy, from
darkness to the light of a new life. This new life is filled by the Spirit
of God which means that it is now ruled by a new law, a new power, which is
the direct opposite of the old law of sin and death. So in this context it
is obvious that when he uses the word "law" Paul does not refer to a code
of regulations but to a new principle of life which applies spontaneously.
In accord with this, his words in verse 4 about God condemning sin in
the flesh, do not speak of the ordinance of the law being fulfilled by
us, but rather in us "who walk not after the flesh but after the
Spirit". Note the evangelical form of the words! He does not write that the
demand of the law is fulfilled by us if we do not walk after the flesh, but
after the Spirit. Such a statement would cast man back upon himself and
disturb him with doubts and fears. The evangelical fact is that we no longer
live after the flesh (v.9. See also 7:5), and therefore, thanks to the work
of Christ for us, we do not walk after the flesh but after the Spirit. This
method of expression avoids turning the reader in upon himself and makes
him glad and confident as he walks in simple faith and confidence in the
Lord. Everything from beginning to end is the work of God for him in Christ
Jesus. That is the gospel!
PAUL now concentrates on describing this great contrast between the flesh
and the Spirit. This is especially important in view of what he had said
about the wretched man in chapter 7. "The flesh" is an expression which has
its roots in the Old Testament and describes the power which natural man can
muster without God. When Israel was tempted to seek help from Egypt which
seemed so strong, the prophet warned that "The Egyptians are men, and not
God; and their horses (strength and power) flesh, and not spirit" (Isaiah
31:3). The flesh which Paul was describing in Romans 7 was natural man at
his best, wanting to do the will of God, striving to fulfil His law. His
verdict upon that is that in his flesh there dwelt no good thing. In himself
he found no good power which could enable him to fulfil God's law. On the
other hand the basic thought which the Old Testament reveals is that the Spirit
is inseparably connected with God's supernatural power. When by salvation
a man receives the Spirit of God, this means that there comes into his life
the power to work in him what he could never do by himself -- love as God
So it is that Paul now writes: "For those who allow themselves to be
led by the Spirit, desire what is spiritual" (v.5 Danish). At first
glance this may seem to contradict what he said about himself in chapter
7 about willing to do good: "To will is present with me". This is not so,
for although he had a desire to do good, his real longing was the flesh
and the real driving force of his nature was sin. This is inevitable for
all who walk after the flesh, that is to say, trust in their own ability.
"For the mind of the flesh is death." Paul does not say that the flesh desires
death, but that the desire of the flesh is death. He does not even
say that the mind of the flesh leads to death, but makes a much more radical
statement that the desire of the flesh is synonymous with death. As a direct
opposite he does not say merely that the Spirit desires life and peace or
even that the desire of the Spirit will eventually lead to life and peace
if it has not yet done so. Once again he postulates a fact; the
[107/108] mind of the Spirit is synonymous with life and peace.
"So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (v.8). Jesus had already
sought to impress this point on Nicodemus, when He said: "That which is born
of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit" (John
3:6). It is also made clear in John's Gospel that what is "born of the will
of the flesh" or "of the will of man" has no acceptance in the family of
God (John 1:13).
THIS raises the question: Are we in the flesh or in the Spirit? It is
a matter of death or life, of enmity against God or acceptance with Him,
of God's displeasure and wrath or His pleasure and friendship. Paul answers
without hesitation: "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit" (v.9).
He goes on to explain that this is because the Spirit of God dwells in you,
as He certainly does if you are a true child of God. The apostle moves easily
from "The Spirit" to "The Spirit of God" and further to "The Spirit of Christ"
in verse 9 and then identifies all this with "Christ in you" in the following
verse. This corresponds with his statement that the last Adam became a life-giving
Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45). Naturally this does not mean that he was at
all confused doctrinally about Christ and the Holy Spirit, as though he were
not able to differentiate between the Persons of the Godhead, but simply
that he wishes to indicate that the experience of the Holy Spirit is the same
as the experience of Christ. This is of enormous importance, for it makes
very evident that the experience of the Holy Spirit is not a sort of magical
activity of supernatural powers in the soul-life. So it is that John advises
us to try every spirit by comparing it with Jesus as He is described in the
Gospels (1 John 4:2-3). If a spirit differs from the historical Jesus, it
is not of God. The Holy Spirit brings us into the most personal and direct
vital contact with the living Christ, so Paul is fully justified in continuing
his argument with the words: "If Christ is in you ...". The sum of being
in the Spirit and having the Spirit in us is to have Christ in us, which is
precisely the same as being "in Christ" (v.1). All these expressions speak
of the basic fact that God has taken us out of our relationship to the old
Adam and made us members of the body of Christ, to share in His fullness
(See Colossians 2:9-10).
Being thus, spirit, soul and body, drawn into Christ and co-heirs with
Him in all His glory, naturally has consequences for our earthly life here
and now. The next section of the chapter will describe these.
(To be continued)
EPITAPH OF A MAN OF GOD
"It is the man of God who was disobedient unto the mouth of the Lord
(1 Kings 13:26)
KING JOSIAH was one of the best of Judah's kings. He lived in those twilight
"last days" before the captivity, but he lived wholly for the Lord, especially
after the Book of God was discovered among the rubbish in the Temple ruins
and read to him. His reforming zeal took him as far as Bethel, and there
he executed the judgment of God on the false alter which Jereboam had erected
long before. Seeing a cemetery near by, he had the inspiration to express
God's abomination of that altar by disinterring the bones which lay there
and burning them on it as a symbol of utter pollution of its wicked worship.
Among the various graves, he observed a special sepulchre of great antiquity
and enquired of the locals what it was. The reply was astounding: "It is
the sepulchre," the bystanders explained, "of the man of God which came from
Judah and proclaimed these things which thou hast done against the altar of
Bethel" (2 Kings 23:17). More than three hundred years before, an unnamed
man of God had foretold in detail what the king had just done and even mentioned
his name, Josiah. The king was solemnised at this further discovery of the
power of God's sacred Word and gave the order: "Let him alone; let no man
move his bones".
The A. V. says that the king's question was: "What title is this that
I see?" but the R. V. [108/109] reads: "What monument
is that which I see?" The latter is probably more correct, but if it had
been a written epitaph, how would its words have read? So far as men were
concerned it must just have commemorated the man's fame as an amazingly accurate
prophet. That is what the men of Bethel had never forgotten, and in a sense
it is good that only his success was perpetuated. The Word of God, however,
gives us the whole story and leaves us with the inevitable conclusion that
the divine epitaph would have to be something like this: "Here lie the
bones of the man of God who failed to achieve a fulfilled life". When
the first news of his death reached Bethel, he was rightly identified as "the
man of God who was disobedient unto the mouth of the Lord".
As a matter of fact it was a double grave, as the divine chronicler records
(2 Kings 23:18), so the further addition would have to be: "and also the
bones of the prophet that brought him back from the way" (1 Kings 13:26).
The history of this old prophet was one of unrelieved tragedy and will not
occupy us now, but we must believe that this story of the fate of the unnamed
man of God was written for a purpose and is intended for our spiritual profit.
It is therefore worth taking a closer look at what happened.
UNDOUBTEDLY he was a true man of God. The phrase is used no less than
fifteen times to describe him, and the first part of his story amply confirms
that description. At the command of God he travelled from Judah into what
was really enemy territory, and there he boldly delivered the message committed
to him. What is more, God confirmed his message, both in the short term and
in the long. He acted immediately by the sign of the disintegration of the
false altar (1 Kings 13:5). This is the proof that a man is God-sent, when
his words are confirmed by divine action (Deuteronomy 18:22). There could
be no doubt about his divine commission. In his case there was also an amazing
long-term vindication of his prophecy, for over three hundred years later
there did come a king named Josiah who defiled the evil altar with dead men's
bones. So far, then, this man was seen to be a true successor to Moses, who
was the first prophet to be called "the man of God" (Deuteronomy 33:1).
Furthermore he met with swift hostility from the rebel Jereboam, who
put out his hand against him in enmity. It is a good sign when the world
hates one of God's servants -- the opposition proves the legitimacy of their
calling. Not that God allowed the violent king to achieve his purpose. Far
from it! He proved that this was His man by miraculously protecting him:
"The hand which he put forth against him dried up, so that he could not
draw it back again to him" (v.4). No man of God need fear his enemies, for
if God's word is like a sharp sword in his mouth, then he will be hidden
in the shadow of God's hand (Isaiah 49:2).
Yes, he was certainly a man of God and now we come to a further proof
of that fact. He was willing to pray for his enemy. Many of us might have
felt so elated at such a spectacular deliverance that we would have been
well content to see it perpetuated by having an enemy with a permanently paralysed
arm. There is something mean in our make-up that can find satisfaction in
God's judgment upon others (though never upon ourselves), and this would have
made us prefer to see the wrong-doer carry around evidence of how God had
smitten him and protected us. The true man of God is not like that. When Jereboam
asked for help by prayer, this man readily prayed for him and was as readily
answered by his merciful God. The hand was healed. The status of the man
of God was the more secured by the evidence that God answered his prayers.
One further matter arises. Will such a man accept any glory for himself?
This man had one more commandment given to him by God and it was that he
should refuse all offers of hospitality and return home by a different route
(v.9). God knows Satan's tactics. He knows that when he cannot frighten a
man by threats, the Devil will seek to corrupt him by flattery. This ploy
is as old as the Garden of Eden and through the centuries it has served Satan
well, though it completely failed in the case of the Lord Jesus. For the moment
it failed with this man, too. When King Jereboam passed from threats of destruction
to offers of patronage, saying: "Come home with me and refresh thyself, and
I will give thee a reward" (v.7), he refused. The man of God did not have
to understand the subtlety of the invitation: He only needed to be obedient
to the mouth of the Lord. So he was able to keep free from the snare by explaining
his divine instructions to the king, refusing the royal offer, and selecting
a different route for his homeward journey. So far, so good. It was a critical
moment, but the trick failed. [109/110]
AFTER this he perhaps made his first mistake. I may be wrong, but I have
the idea that by sitting down under an oak tree and perhaps feeling just
a little sorry for himself, he made himself more vulnerable to the next temptation
when it caught up with him (v.14). There is no need to charge the old prophet
with deliberate collaboration with the tempter. Anyone walking in the flesh
is a suitable tool for the Evil One, even though his intentions may not be
bad. This man's intentions, though, were not so good, for they were utterly
selfish. He clearly wanted to have some occasion for boasting, even if it
were only second-hand. Almost invariably, those who glory in a man manage
to extract a little glory for themselves by so doing.
He is called "an old prophet", possibly because of spiritual rather than
physical decrepitude. He was the man who should have been available to speak
up for God when Jereboam led Israel astray. But he was a spiritual back number,
as ineffective in Bethel as Lot had been in Sodom. The Lord was obliged
to send a man from distant Judah, leaving this old prophet with the sad
distinction of having deviated the man of God from the way of God's will.
No doubt it was all excitement in that home when the old prophet's sons
came bursting in with the news of the happenings at Bethel's false altar.
They must have reported the whole story to their father, including the complete
repudiation of the reward offered by Jereboam. It so happened that they
had taken note of the new route adopted by the man of God, and this was
enough for their excited father to demand an instant saddling of his ass
so that he could set out post haste to ensure that the eminent servant of
God should not go unrewarded. He was conceited enough to imagine that whereas
an invitation from Jereboam might be unacceptable, he could presume on his
standing as a prophet to go one better. He felt that he should have the right
to entertain this man of God, and perhaps to gain some reflected glory from
having done so.
Even on his donkey, would he have caught up with him if the man of God
had kept moving? I doubt it. For that reason I wonder whether it was unwise
to linger so long in the vicinity of his triumph. Even so, he had no need
to be trapped. He had his orders from God. The unscrupulous old prophet
invented a message which did not come from God but only from his own deceitful
heart. Was the man of God really deceived? Perhaps he was, for it is sometimes
possible for God to change His instructions. This, however, was most unlikely,
and he ought to have demanded something more than the old prophet's self-recommendation
before imagining that God's will had changed in this way. Or was there an
element of persuasiveness in the old man's words which half hinted that one
can always stretch a point on the quiet when it is only a matter between
brothers? Is it possible that the man of God, like Adam before him, was not
really deceived but disobeyed with his eyes open (1 Timothy 2:14)? In this
case, as with Adam, the transgression may not appear all that grave, but it
was an affront to God's expressed will, and met with dire consequences. Clearly
God held this man of His culpable for his action and did not find it possible
to overlook his deviation.
I ASK myself, How was it that such a Spirit-endued messenger of God should
offend in this way? I think that perhaps I find the answer in my own heart.
It was because he liked the praise of men. Who of us does not? It is hard
to serve God faithfully and get no recognition at all. It goes against the
grain to have not a single mark of appreciation when we have toiled sacrificially
in God's service. We can boldly refuse this world's rewards, but when God's
people want to give us recognition we crave for just a little self-glory.
Was this the man of God's fault? Superficially it might seem to have been
just a small act of disobedience. Not that disobedience to God's revealed
will can ever be small. I suggest, though, that the real cause of God's displeasure
with His servant was that he succumbed to the temptation of letting people
make something of him, instead of giving all the glory to God.
The lion somehow suggests a conflict with the sovereign lordship of the
Lord. There can be no doubt that there were features about it which were
most unusual. It killed the man of God and yet spared his ass. It remained
by the carcase, yet never molested the passers-by who carried the message
back to Bethel. It did not challenge the old prophet when he came to collect
the ass and the corpse. The whole episode reveals what can only be described
as an act of God.
IT was a costly lapse. It meant, as the old prophet so rightly announced,
that this man's history with God would fail to reach full fulfilment. He
would never be buried with his own [110/111] people
(v.22), and that to a Jew cast a shadow on his place in history. It is obvious
that he was interred with special honours, and his grave marked by the erection
of some monument which perpetuated in Bethel the record of the work which
he had done for God. Nevertheless he missed something which was precious
to every pious Jew: "thy carcase shall not come into the sepulchre of thy
fathers". Through the lips of the unworthy and untruthful old prophet God
pronounced this sentence on His erring servant. The tragedy was not that he
died; but that his life was cut short of true fulfilment and his grave was
distant from his own family.
To us this might seem a very insignificant matter. Most of us care little
where or how we are buried. It has no connection with our eternal destiny
and we seldom give a thought to it. To the Jew, however, the place and manner
of a man's burial formed a kind of verdict on the value of his life. "They
buried him in the city of David among the kings" (2 Chronicles 24:16), was
the divine evaluation of Jehoida the priest, expressing the great honour
given to one who was not a king in men's eyes but had reached a royal status
by his devotion to God's house. On the other hand it was foretold of Jehoiakim,
the son of Josiah, that "he shall be buried with the burial of an ass ...
beyond the gates of Jerusalem" (Jeremiah 22:19). These are two extremes.
The man of God fell somewhere between them. He was not without honour, for
he was a man of God, but yet he failed to attain to God's full purpose for
him. This is written down in the Word of God for our sakes. It at least suggests
that Paul had this kind of shortcoming in mind when he expressed concern
lest after having been God's herald here on earth, he should still fail to
gain the prize which ought to have been his (1 Corinthians 9:27).
This man's exploits were memorable. His sepulchre was of some considerable
honour. Yet his epitaph must be that he failed to attain. His story must
have been told as a kindly warning to every man or woman of God. It was not
enough that he spoke God's Word faithfully to others, that he proved God's
power through the Word, that he was miraculously protected and that his prayer
was answered in a spectacular way. It was not enough that he refused to accept
the world's invitation to compromise. He needed also to have a humble and
obedient walk with God. And in this he failed. He need not have done so,
and nor need we, for the key to success is always the Word of God. Provision
has been made there for a completely fulfilled life and ministry.
"ALL Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof,
for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness; that the man of
God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work" (2 Timothy
3:16-17). The story of the failure at Bethel provides us with reproof or
correction. Can we find another which will instruct us rightly so that we
may not come short of spiritual fulfilment? We can. We now turn to another
man of God whose end was very different. His name was Elisha. It is just a
coincidence, but a very happy one, that whereas the 13th chapter of First
Kings offers this sombre warning, the 13th chapter of Second Kings cheers
us with a glorious contrast. Once again we stand by the sepulchre of a man
of God, and once again we imagine what might have been his God-given epitaph.
It would read: "Here lie the bones of a man of God whose ministry of life
reached full fulfilment".
More than any other in the Bible, Elisha is described as a "man of God".
It is apparent that when, in company with his master, he first visited the
groups of believers known as "sons of the prophets" he was perhaps pitied
and certainly patronised by them. All knew that Elijah was a man of God;
he even looked the part (2 Kings 1:8). Elisha, however, was so unassuming
that the village louts called him "baldhead". He was only known as "the man
who poured water on the hands of Elijah" (2 Kings 3:11). Yet from the time
when a widow was delivered from her penury until the time of his last mortal
illness when his physical condition was superceded by the robustness of his
faith in God (2 Kings 13:19), he is described again and again as "the man
of God". There was no mistaking the spiritual power which emanated from him.
So potent and varied were the expressions of God's power through him that
we might almost imagine that he had some special resources which are not available
to us. To avoid any misunderstanding on this point, and to make very clear
the true source of his life-giving ministry, we are informed of a final miracle
which happened after he had died. A corpse was raised to life simply by contact
with his remains (2 Kings 13:21). [111/112] Not
by any activity of Elisha but just by touching his bones, the man received
new life. Clearly, then, it was proved to all that this man of God had attained
complete fulfilment. There was no cessation of the ministry of life in his
WE are given no location of Elisha's sepulchre. No visible monument was
erected over his bones. But he had something better than an ornamental plaque
or a human epitaph -- he had the supreme honour of being involved in a ministry
of life and blessing which continued even after he had gone. And that to
us speaks of the eternal values of a fulfilled life. Like the other man of
God, Elisha was offered grateful recognition. The cleansed and believing Naaman
urged him to take a present ("blessing" Margin), but the reply of the man
of God was: "As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none"
(2 Kings 5:16). We are told that Naaman urged him to take it -- "but he refused".
Was this, then, Elisha's secret? Elisha kept close to the Lord right through
to the end.
The Word of God can only be "God-breathed" to us if we keep very close
to Him. As He breathes out, we must breathe in. To do this, and to keep
on doing it right through to the end is the way by which the man of God
may find his complete spiritual fulfilment. What will our epitaph be?
LEARNING FROM LEVITICUS
Arthur E. Gove
2. THE MEAL OFFERING
Reading: Leviticus 2
THIS is the second of the "sweet savour" offerings. The Burnt Offering
showed us the Godward aspect of Christ's death upon the cross, emphasising
the meaning of that offering to God Himself. This is also an offering primarily
for God, though the greater part of it was also used for food. It is often
called the Meat Offering, in the old sense of the word which refers to food,
but there was no sacrifice of an animal nor shedding of blood. It is, in
fact, the Meal Offering.
Perhaps a word of warning may be inserted here, and that is to the effect
that we must confine ourselves to discovering what we can of the Lord Jesus
in this Scripture. The danger in studying Old Testament types is that we
can put unwarranted emphasis on every word instead of concentrating on what
is said of the Lord Jesus. There is a satirical couplet which has some truth
Wonderful things in the Bible I see,
Some put there by you and some put there by me.
And it was C. S. Lewis who remarked that "What we see when we think we
are looking into the depths of Scripture may sometimes be the reflection
of our own silly face". We want to avoid anything fanciful and concentrate
all our gaze on this as one of the five-fold aspects of Christ our Offering.
AS in the Burnt Offering, the whole purpose of this offering was acceptance
and not sacrificing for sin. In this case there was no shedding of blood
at all, though it was still an offering by fire. The thrust of its meaning
seems to be the way in which Christ's life here on earth was lived for God
on our behalf. If the Burnt Offering portrayed what the death of Christ meant
to the Father, then the Meal Offering shows us what His holy life meant. It
is a very beautiful type of Christ as He lived and walked and served here
on earth as the perfect Man. Just as the Burnt Offering was to be "without
blemish" so this one was to be without leaven (v.11). In this case we see
Christ not as the "sin bearer" but as the One who presented His perfect humanity
and all associated with it to the Father, and it was in this connection that
the verdict from heaven upon this lovely Son was that the Father was well
pleased with Him.
The perfection of that life is emphasised by the finely ground flour
which was to be used. To be a perfect offering it was necessary that there
should be no lumpiness, no unevenness, no coarse grain, but smoothness and
evenness in all things. This was exactly how the Lord Jesus lived here for
God. One day's walk never contradicted another and in Him every grace was
full and yet perfectly balanced with all the others. With Him there was
never a virtue [112/113] wanting nor ever one carried
to excess. His gentleness was never weakness; His firmness was never obstinacy;
His calmness never coldness or indifference. There was a perfect blending
together of every grace in the human life of Jesus.
A FURTHER feature of this offering was that oil was poured upon it (v.1)
and mingled with it (v.4). Oil is, of course, typical of the Holy Spirit
and in its use for the Meal Offering we are reminded of the presence and working
of the Holy Spirit in the Man Jesus. He was conceived by the Spirit, indwelt
by the Spirit and anointed by Him -- hence the title "Christ". "God anointed
Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power" (Acts 10:38) so that
the consequent earthly life lived by Him and the expression of perfect manhood
in and through Him were all due to the Spirit's power. We see, therefore,
the wonderful symbolism of pure, fine flour with the mingling of the oil.
But this was not all. The command was: "and put frankincense thereon"
(v.1). We can say that if the oil typifies the power of Christ's perfect
human life, then frankincense points to the objective of that life, namely
the satisfaction and the glory of God. He did everything by the power of
God and He did everything to the glory of God. Frankincense is the most precious
of all perfumes whose full fragrance is brought out when it is submitted
to the flames. So it was that the more tried Jesus was, the more He endured
the contradiction of sinners against Himself, the more was every outgoing
of His life sweet with a fragrance which brought satisfaction to the Father's
heart. Because of the effects of the fire, honey was forbidden (v.11). Honey
indeed is also sweet but when exposed to heat it ferments and spoils. For
this reason it could not form a part of Christ's perfect Meal Offering.
In His case there was no change or diminution of the sweet savour of His
life. No word that He ever spoke was ever withdrawn or needed to be modified.
No misstatement or half-truth ever crossed His lips. He never needed nor
sought advice from the wisest men of His day; He never made any confession
of sin, though so sensitive about it; He never explained His conduct, even
when He was misunderstood or misrepresented, as He might have been when He
fell asleep in the boat or when He failed to go at once to the help of the
sisters of Bethany. What is more, He never asked others to pray for Him.
A FURTHER ingredient for the Meal Offering was the salt (v.13). This
seems to stand over against the forbidden leaven, for while the latter speaks
of corruption, salt is the great enemy of corruption and symbol of preserved
purity. The balance of Christ's character was never disturbed or readjusted.
Without blemish or deviation He perfectly fulfilled the will of God. In His
life there was nothing to mar or diminish the sweetness of savour to the
Father. The command was: "neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant
of thy God to be lacking from thy meal offering". In His case it never was
lacking. There is no end to the faithfulness of God's covenant as revealed
in the person of Jesus Christ. Later on, God's people are enjoined that their
conversation should be with grace and always seasoned with salt (Colossians
4:6). In a unique way, the Lord put into practice this purity of speech and
This offering was for the most part eaten by the priests. It is notable
that the offerer had nothing for himself. The offering was made "unto
the Lord" for it was in that perfect life of obedience that Christ offered
to the Father His portion and satisfaction. Since the priests were to eat,
however, we can rightly say that Christians who have been made spiritual
priests are thereby capacitated to feed on Christ in all His perfections.
This is the privilege of the true worshipper, though unhappily it is all too
seldom entered into. We know that the unforgiven sinners can see no beauty
in the Lord Jesus that they should desire Him. But it is only too possible
that Christians who fail to enter into their calling as priests and to come
into the holy place, may go hungry spiritually and miss the joys of feeding
on Christ as their Meal Offering.
IT is important to realise that the Meal Offering was only made by one
who was already living in the good of the Sin Offering and the shedding
of blood. The Bible story opens with the two brothers who brought their
offerings to the Lord: "In the process of time it came to pass, that Cain
brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel,
he also brought of the fatlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And
the Lord had respect unto Abel and his offering: but unto Cain and his offering
he had not respect" (Genesis 4:3-5). Cain's offering was a "Meal Offering"
for which there was no blood shedding. His mistake was to think that he
could satisfy the claims of his [113/114] God by
his own human effort. Not only is this impossible for us but it is also true
that we cannot find acceptance with God on the basis of Christ's Meal Offering,
though His life was perfect. For us salvation is not found only in the life
that Jesus lived but in the life that He laid down in death on our behalf.
His holy life was necessary. It proved that He was the only One who because
of His perfect fulfilment of the divine law was able to be a sacrifice for
It is clear, therefore, that without the blood sacrifice of the Lord
Jesus no man can be a true Christian. It should be equally clear that those
who do trust in the sacrifice of the cross should also learn to appreciate
and feed upon the absolute obedience of Christ and His perfection. And this
appreciation should be in life as well as in thoughts and words. The Meal
Offering was the work of men's hands, the fruits of the ground, the result
of human cultivation, preparation and manufacture and therefore becomes to
us a symbol of service offered. This service is to be free from the leaven
of hypocrisy, selfish motives and malice. It is to be the unleavened bread
of sincerity and truth. How important, then, for us to be always learning
more of Christ, receiving more of His virtues as we feed on Him, and offering
as only blood-bought believers can, the pure worship and service of lives
lived in the power of the Spirit of Christ.
(To be continued)
A MATTER OF URGENCY
(Studies in John's Gospel. Chapters 13-17)
John H. Paterson
2. AN EXAMPLE
IN our last study I suggested that, in order to appreciate the events
and the words recounted for us in John 13-17, we have to take note of their
context: of the Lord's imminent arrest and separation from His disciples
(of which He knew, although they did not), and of the sense of urgency which
this knowledge must have given Him on that evening. There were so many "last
words" and final instructions to be spoken. He would wish to make the best
possible use of the few remaining moments.
In the event, as we saw, the Lord Jesus divided the time between four
different activities: example, explanation, exhortation and intercession.
Of these, He gave first place (13:15) to example.
In education we have become familiar with the term "visual aid". What
that means in plain language is that we remember something which we have
seen as well as heard better than something that has merely been explained
to us. Countless surveys of the difference in impact between television and
radio have made that clear. The Gospel writer himself seems to have been aware
of it, for he began his first epistle, "that which was from the beginning,
which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked
upon and touched with our hands ...". It is not surprising, therefore, that
so skilled a Teacher as the Lord Jesus should make use of this kind of teaching
Everything about this incident is well known, except the answer to the
question: Why did He use just one visual aid; this one in particular?
We have marvelled, time and time again, at the condescension of the Lord
Jesus. We have followed the story, knowing the background: that the washing
of the disciples' feet arose from the circumstances that, on the way home
from the baths, a person's feet would get dirty again, so that the feet --
but only the feet -- would need to be washed a second time on arrival. We
know that it was the servant's task to see to this. We know, too, that in
this incident we can see pictured the cleansing work of Christ, who washed
us once and for all clean from our sins, but who also cleanses us day by
day. And we can imagine that the disciples would not have been thinking of
any such spiritual symbolism; they would have been recalling the arguments
they had had about who should be greatest. To them, the example must have
appeared first and foremost as a rebuke.
About all this, there is little new to be said: we can only wonder at
the graciousness which guided our Saviour in His actions that night. But
[114/115] we are left with the question of
why He chose this one example to leave with them. Why not remind them, say,
of how to change water into wine, or stones into bread? Why not demonstrate
once again the method of casting out evil spirits (which, as we now know,
they were going to do often enough in the days ahead)? This feet-washing
was surely a curious -- indeed, a totally unexpected -- choice of "visual
aid"! It certainly took the disciples aback.
I have been asking myself this question, and have three answers to suggest.
To give them labels of a sort, we may say that Jesus did what He did on account
1. The power structure in the Church
2. The temptation of power
3. The task before the Church.
The Power Structure in the Church
By His example, Jesus made it clear that in His kingdom there will never
be a higher rank than servant. During His earthly ministry, His disciples
had deferred to Him as "Lord and Teacher" (13:13) and He acknowledged and
approved their recognition of a difference in rank. The only question was:
what rank did this represent? What the example showed was that the top rank
in the hierarchy of God's men on earth, the apex of what we should nowadays
call the "power structure", was a servant. Everybody else was in a much lower
rank than that.
John in his account adds an extra dimension. Notice his marginal comment
on this incident: "Jesus knowing ... that he had come from God and was going
to God" (v.3). What struck John afterwards was that this was not just
a teacher and rabbi performing, incredibly, the servant's task. There
were plenty of teachers in Israel. But this was much more -- a Man from God
who, even as He washed their feet, was already beginning His return journey
to God. And this was how He behaved!
We can see what a problem this posed for the disciples, and we can guess
how uncomfortable they must have felt, for we can feel this same discomfort
by merely reading of the incident; by merely picturing the Son of God taking
upon Himself the servant's role. If this is His place in the hierarchy,
wherever must we stand?
I think that Jesus chose this as His example because He knew that, with
His own departure, the question was bound immediately to arise, "Who gives
the orders now?" His own authority among them had been virtually unchallenged.
The new authority was to be the Holy Spirit -- but the Holy Spirit working
through men. The Holy Spirit has not, in practice, exercised His power apart
from people. The search for a form of fellowship or church in which nobody
exercises any authority and the Spirit does it all has proved illusory.
This meant that there would have to be a "power structure". However
small or local the expression of Christ's presence in His people, power and
authority would have to be exercised; it would not operate in a vacuum. And
we know to our cost that this has been the source of so many of the Church's
defeats. It cannot exist without power being channelled through it; yet
those in whose hands the power has lain, or the authority been placed, have
still been arguing the very points which confronted the first disciples,
"Who?" and "How?"
So the Lord Jesus defined the terms on which power was to be exercised
-- it was to be done by servants. The men and women whom the Holy Spirit
would use in the future as channels for His power would need to conform to
the prescription. He had given them an example.
The Temptation of Power
Just as the first question which would arise after His departure was
that of power or authority, so He foresaw that the first temptation to which
His followers would be subject would be that of their misuse. For that matter,
the misuse had already started! They had outlawed a man who was casting out
demons in Jesus' name for no better reason than that they did not know him,
and they were offering to call down fire on all and sundry to ensure a welcome
for Jesus (Luke 9:49, 54). To be called into membership of the little group
that surrounded Him, and given a taste of what it meant to cast out evil
spirits or walk on water, had already provoked them to pride and jealousy.
We can sympathise with them, for we recognise the symptoms. It is not, normally,
the man with heavy responsibilities and real command who "throws his weight
about", but the person who is tasting authority for the first time -- the
minor dignitary or the newly-promoted official.
But just because these reactions were so natural, they were to be the
source of endless trouble in the days ahead. To realise this, we
[115/116] have only to take note of the amount of space in the
epistles which is occupied by the subject of authority, its exercise and
the rivalries it produces. Without this temptation to abuse power or resent
its proper exercise, the two epistles to the Corinthians would hardly have
been necessary; that to the Galatians would have lost much of its point and
all of its dramatic climax -- the confrontation of Peter and Paul -- while
the Colossians would have put Christ first and forgotten the rules and regulations
to which they submitted -- and so on. Not only that but the real, present-day
fellowship of God's people whom we ourselves know would have been spared
untold sorrow, division and loss. Think of a church that has got into difficulties,
and nine times out of ten you are thinking of a situation in which the key
issue was authority. Somebody claimed that the Holy Spirit had given him
authority, but nobody else could see it. Or somebody complained about the
way the leadership exercised authority and challenged its right to do so.
How clearly the Lord must have anticipated this sad course of history
as He gave priority to this lesson, and took the towel and the water. "I
am among you as he that serveth."
The Task Before the Church
I think that a third reason why Jesus chose this example lay in the nature
of the task He was calling upon them to fulfil. It was a task in which the
factor of greatest importance was going to be their relationships
-- to Himself certainly, but also to one another. When we come later to
consider His prayer for them, of course, we shall notice again the importance
He attached to the subject. This was a task whose dimensions Paul was later
to spell out in his letter to the Ephesians and he, too, would stress this
point. It was not to be thought of as primarily an individual thing, but as
a collective effort; it was what they did together that would count:
"that now unto principalities and powers in heavenly places might be made
known by the church the manifold wisdom of God".
Fulfilment of God's purpose in His Church involves a particular relationship
between its members. And to sustain that relationship, as Paul reminded the
Ephesians, special qualities are needed. They are lowliness, meekness, forbearance
and patience (Ephesians 4:2). To exercise authority while still maintaining
all those qualities is God's call to His people. This lesson took pride
of place on that last evening together.
What a difficult lesson it is! The disciples -- or two of them, at least
-- found it so and reacted accordingly. Peter objected, and tried first one
alternative and then another. It made no sense to him; he would have preferred
something a bit more robust, such as laying down his life for Jesus, not
washing feet (13:37). As for Judas Iscariot, this was the last straw. Whatever
he had hoped for in Jesus, he now evidently decided that he hoped in vain.
Having seen the foot-washing, he went out -- and it was night. The sight
of God in the role of a servant is disturbing; it challenges all our assumptions
about ourselves and our society. May He reshape them to serve His purpose
(To be continued)
THE SILVER TRUMPETS OF REDEMPTION
Reading: Numbers 10:1-10
THERE is a great deal about trumpets in the Bible: indeed the word occurs
about a hundred times. This suggests that God has something to say to us
on this subject, especially to His servants. This is our privilege as ministers
of Christ, to sound forth the clear message of salvation like silver trumpets.
We notice that the material used for these trumpets was silver which,
in Old Testament symbolism, denotes redemption. This suggests that God's
message to man is about redemption, but it also means that no one can be
God's trumpet unless he himself is redeemed. The trumpets were made of solid
silver, which means that they were the embodiment of the spiritual reality
of redemption. So it is that before we can proclaim the message of God we
must know redemption in the very constitution of our being. What is more,
they are described as being "of [116/117] beaten work".
They have to be hammered out in such a way that redemption is wrought into
their very experience. It is not just that God gives us words to say, but
that our message must have a background of some real and thorough-going experience
in the matter of which we speak.
These things, then, should characterise every one who would be a messenger
of God to others. It is better to have a small experience but a very real
one, and to witness of that, than to speak empty words which have no solid
background in the life and cannot therefore serve God in the trumpet call
of His grace. The process will go on if we allow God to pursue it and He
will work our redemption into us, making us like those silver trumpets which
were "of beaten work". Redemption does not begin and end just with our being
saved from judgment and hell and being assured of heaven. This is an important
part of our Christian experience, but it is only a part, for redemption begins
to apply to and touch every part of our lives until we are wholly on that
When the Israelites were redeemed by God from their bondage in Egypt,
the result was that not one ox was left in the land. God applied this matter
of redemption to the last hoof of the last animal to leave Egypt. His idea
was a very thorough-going redemption which left nothing outside. Now that
illustrates our point. It was true in history, but it shows us that in our
spiritual life everything has to be wrought and beaten into us, so that our
lives can be silver trumpets for God.
The trumpets were two in number. This surely stresses their devotion
to witnessing. In the Bible the legal position was that the evidence of
one person alone was never accepted. It had to be confirmed and corroborated
by a second reliable witness before it could be valid. "At the mouth of two
witnesses ... shall every word be established" (2 Corinthians 13:1). Two is
the irreducible minimum of God. As many more as you like, but no less than
two. It was equally the case with the silver sockets of the tabernacle boards
-- there had to be two sockets for each board. God wishes to have everything
ratified and confirmed in an unmistakable way where His testimony is concerned.
This matter is taken up by the apostle Paul in the passage about trumpets
where he writes: "If the trumpet give an uncertain voice, who shall prepare
himself for war?" (1 Corinthians 14:8). Unhappily there is far too much indefiniteness
and uncertainty about some Christian witness today. It is essential that
there should be nothing of the kind where redemption is concerned. The witness
must be positive.
It is helpful to consider the purpose of these silver trumpets:
1. To Call Together (v.3)
In the first place they were to be used to call an assembly together.
Here were instruments to establish the relatedness, the oneness, of the fellowship
together of God's people. We should have a unifying effect on our fellow
believers, avoiding anything which could tend to scatter or divide the people
of God. It is a great ministry to bring the Lord's people together. The ministry
of the silver trumpets is never to disintegrate God's people but rather to
strengthen relationships and consolidate fellowship.
2. To Order Movement (v.5)
We find that the trumpets were used for the ordering of the life and
movement of Israel. It is interesting to notice that the two silver trumpets
come next to the cloud of Shekinah glory which rested upon the Tabernacle.
They worked together. The pillar of cloud and fire provided guidance for
God's people, and when Israel was in right relationship with Him, then the
guidance was always towards the land of promise. So when it was time for
the people to move forward, the trumpets were sounded to give direction to
the march, bringing them ever nearer and nearer to the spiritual wealth and
fullness of God's objective for them.
In this way we see that the trumpets proclaimed God's great purpose for
His redeemed people. The trumpet note cannot be sounded too strongly in this
connection nor too clearly, for we are called with a great divine purpose
which God formulated before the world was. The Lord's people need to have
it made known to them, for there is a tremendous purpose governing their
being called together into the fellowship of His Son, and they need not only
to know the purpose, but also God's way of realising it. They need to be kept
from wandering round in circles, straying about indefinitely without any
clear assurance of what redemption really involves and where it should be
leading them. There is a great need for an enlightening and inspiring ministry
of the Word which will summon God's redeemed people to move on to His eternal
purpose for them in Christ. The [117/118] silver
trumpets were to govern God's people in relation to the ultimate fullness
which He has for them in Christ.
3. To Call to War (v.9)
They were also to sound the summons to war. Perhaps this note is as much
needed as any, for every Christian is intended to be involved in spiritual
warfare. It is so easy to be surprised or worried when we become involved
in conflict, as though this were very strange and unfair for peace-loving
persons. The fact is, though, that conflict is far from being strange or
unusual but is the calling of every true Christian. The silver trumpets call
us to be good soldiers of Jesus Christ. We must realise that we have a part
in the Lord's battles and that these will go on to the very end. We must learn
to respond to the rallying voice of redemption's trumpet. It calls us to
victory, for the words seem to suggest that the Lord Himself would listen
for the trumpet alarm and when He heard it, would remember His beloved people
and send them salvation from their enemies.
4. To Express Praise (v.10)
The fourth purpose was simply the trumpeting of praise to God on feast
days and special occasions of rejoicing. Salvation is a feast, and is often
so described in the Gospels. Our testimony to the world around us should
always be bright and clear. In this way the trumpet call can be a call of
salvation to those who are outside of God's grace in Christ. Paul writes
about their sound going into all the earth, and their words to the ends of
the world (Romans 10:18). God's people are set in so many places that they
may be a witness to Him, like the silver trumpets celebrating the perfect
offering of Christ and the gospel truth of God's provision for sinners by
that offering. For us, then, every day should be a feast day, a day of gladness.
There is no time when we should not be sounding the silver trumpets of redemption
as we remember Christ and rejoice in His saving grace. As we make much of
the Lord Jesus and concentrate on Him, then from us goes out a message of
hope and salvation to those around us. We blow our trumpets over the one
great Burnt Offering and Peace Offering and we are assured that God will always
remember us and work for us as we do this. The last word of this passage is:
"I am the Lord your God". What a joy if others should enter into such a relationship
because we have served as silver trumpets of redemption.
A PILGRIM'S PRAYER
2. A PILGRIM WHOSE MIND IS ENLIGHTENED
"The opening of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding to
"Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of the
THE first requirement of a pilgrim on the heavenly way is that his heart
should be aflame with love for God's Word. An equally essential one is that
his mind should be enlightened by that Word. To be a pilgrim a man must be
a disciple, which means that he must be teachable. The psalmist measures
up well to this demand. He is ready to be taught and anxious to learn. He
is well aware of his own limitations and constantly crying to God for instruction
and correction. Although he is familiar with the rich technical variety of
God's law, its commandments, precepts, statutes, testimonies and the like,
he never assumes that expertise in spiritual matters which so often characterises
the brash dogmatist, but humbly looks to God for understanding. Seven times
over in the course of the psalm he prays: "Teach me thy statutes" (12, f.).
The word he uses shows clearly that he is anxious to know how to behave
as God would wish, since it is first used in reference to "that which is
right in his eyes" (Exodus 15:26).
It is not enough to have an emotional relationship with God. The pilgrim
must have an enlightened mind. In this connection it may be pointed out how
practical all true spiritual learning is. The man on the road is not merely
accumulating information but he is making [118/119]
progress along the pathway of likeness to Christ. He is learning by doing
and by suffering, and the Word of God is his teacher through it all. It is
a light to his path, that is, it is directed to that way of living which
he must follow if he wants God's will. It is also a lamp unto his feet (105).
The simplest fact about walking is that it can only be done a step at a time.
While in practice we may not always need to focus on our feet while we are
walking, this is largely because we live in civilised conditions with artificially
smoothed surfaces on our roads. The pilgrim in the wilds has no such advantage,
so he must always look down to see where he is putting each foot. Woe betide
him if his thoughts wander to the place where he will have to be in a few
minutes time! The supreme matter is to look where he is treading at the
moment, to make sure where he is putting each foot. When the New Testament
tells us to walk by the Spirit or to walk by faith, it stresses this one
point. There is light for just now. That is promised. There is a lamp from
God's Word for each next step. If we obey it, then there will be the same
provision for each succeeding step. Our folly is to be planning or worrying
about the step after next, or the one beyond that. Was not that why Jesus
warned His disciples not to be anxious for tomorrow (Matthew 6:34)? Probably
the greater part of our anxiety is due to projecting our cares into tomorrow,
the thing which the Lord said that we must not do. And the sad thing is that
when we do this, we not only suffer unnecessary tensions about the future
but we often put our foot wrong today. The lamp is shining on our foot; the
light is offering us guidance on our immediate way. That is an elementary
lesson for the successful pilgrim.
IT is a remarkable fact that this pilgrim says nothing about forgiveness.
In the course of the very long prayer it is not once mentioned. Why can this
be? Is it because a sinner cannot be a true pilgrim until the whole sin
question has been finally settled by a personal experience of God's redemption
by the cross? A believer only begins his heavenly pilgrimage when the burden
of his sin falls from him at the cross. The forgiven sinner does not keep
whining about his guilt; rather does he gratefully believe that this has
all been taken away and addresses himself to the more positive exercise of
walking in the way of life by faith. As he does this, however, he is careful
to keep clean the channels of communication with his holy Father by confessing
his sins and humbly accepting instant forgiveness for them. We are assured
that if we keep on walking in the light, God will keep on cleansing us from
all sin. At the very beginning of the pilgrim's journey, this principle is
laid down: "Wherewithall shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed
thereto according to thy word" (9). It may be possible to view this verse
in the context of those warnings about clean living which are found in the
book of Proverbs, but surely it is more meaningful here if we accept it as
a reminder to the beginner that he must continue to walk in the light and
so find cleansing, for "If we walk in the light as he is in the light ...
the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).
If he says nothing about forgiveness, the psalmist is far from being
casual about the matter of sin. For this peril, too, he finds the remedy
in the Word of God: "Thy word have I laid up in my heart, that I might not
sin against thee" (11). He is clear in his mind about this matter. He knows
that he has no ability in himself, even when he walks with the Word of God
in his hand, so he offers this earnest petition: "Order my steps in thy
word; and let not any iniquity have dominion over me" (133). Humility and
teachability go hand in hand. It is not surprising, then, that the pilgrim
intersperses his avowals of devotion to the law of the Lord with constant
admissions that he would never be able to keep it apart from grace: "Remove
from me the way of lying; and grant me thy law graciously" (29). As we read
these words, we instinctively remember the phrase in the prayer which the
Lord Jesus taught us: "Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from
the evil one" (Matthew 6:13).
THE reference to "the way of lying" does not imply that he asks for help
not to tell lies, but rather that he is concerned not to stray from the true
road. There are "false paths" for the unwary pilgrim; he hates them and
knows that the only safety for him is to get understanding direct from the
Lord (104). When I was a traveller in the forest of Brazil I sometimes found
that a false trail looked a much more likely one than the true path. Perhaps
others found is so too, or perhaps it was just due to my lack of experience.
Certainly in our spiritual path we may well be confronted with some specious
[119/120] prospect which will really be a "way of
lying". The sooner we learn to wait always for light from God, the safer
will our journey be.
Perhaps it is in this connection that we can best quote the statement:
"The opening of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding to the simple"
(130). This is not just an encouraging text for the evangelist in his efforts
to bring the gospel light to darkened hearts. It may include that, but it
means much more. It is a reminder that we have no innate or acquired ability
to find the right path, but are completely dependent upon that divine light
which comes to us when the Word of God is opened up to us by the Holy Spirit.
Our trouble so often is that we are too clever; we think that we know. God's
light, however, is reserved for the "simple". The man who really hates every
false way must maintain the attitude of esteeming all God's precepts
concerning all things to be right (128). The pilgrim must be humble-hearted
if he would be enlightened. Then if it proves that he is learning more quickly
than his would-be instructors, he will not be conceited, but know that this
is only because he practises communion with the Lord (99), and if he finds
himself maturing in spiritual understanding, it will be because he is careful
not only to read but to obey (100).
In this matter of the Spirit's enlightenment it is a great comfort to
know that we are in the hands of our Creator-Redeemer: "Thy hands have made
me and fashioned me: give me understanding that I may learn thy commandments"
(73). Was it not that fine old plodding pilgrim, Peter, who told us to commit
our souls in well-doing unto a faithful Creator (1 Peter 4:19)? This is an
area for which Christians greatly need the enlightenment of the Spirit; the
understanding of why God made man and how He proposes to realise that original
purpose by means of redemption. So far as God is concerned our pilgrimage
has a definite goal, which is that of our being conformed to the image of
PETER'S theme is largely devoted to God's use of suffering for our sanctification,
a point which is clearly emphasised by the psalmist as he confesses: "Before
I was afflicted I went astray", adding feelingly, "but now I observe thy
word" (67). Far from complaining about God's ways with him, as the unenlightened
believer will often do, he justifies those ways by praying: "I know, O LORD,
that thy judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness thou hast afflicted
me" (75). His song is not a hollow attempt cheerfully to shrug off his troubles,
but rather a sensitive appreciation of the wise purposes of God in allowing
them to come upon him. Ministers of God's Word should pray for ability so
to open up that Word to sufferers as to interpret their experiences in the
light of God's eternal purpose for them.
There is a great deal more in this prayer concerning the enlightening
power of God's Word, but perhaps the key prayer is found very early on in
the pilgrimage: "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out
of thy law" (18). All these things will surely relate to the Lord Jesus Himself,
as the two on the Emmaus road discovered in the brief hours of their sacred
pilgrimage. As we repeat the prayer we ask not only for the burning heart
experience which they had but for what at that historical moment they could
not know -- a vision of the Lord Jesus which never fades.
"O Word of God incarnate,
O wisdom from on high,
O truth unchanged, unchanging,
O light of our dark sky.
We praise Thee for the radiance
That from Thy hallowed page,
A lantern to our footsteps,
Shines on from age to age."
(To be continued) [120/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
INSPIRED PARENTHESES (16)
"(for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty
before God to the casting down of strongholds)" (2 Corinthians 10:4)
THIS is a most significant passage, though it hardly seems like a parenthesis.
Apparently it is so bracketed because it breaks in on the explanation about
the "casting down imaginations" (verses 3 & 5), but in fact this fourth
verse is itself a significant comment on the Christians' weapons and war.
The Christian is not a pacifist. Whatever may be the arguments for and
against earthly enlistment in national armies, the whole New Testament faces
us with many calls to arms and reminders that in Christ we are involved
in a fierce war for which full and up-to-date equipment has been provided
by God. In no sense is this a defensive campaign. Believers are never to
fight for their own rights and are not expected to battle for the survival
of the Church. All these matters are to be left with God, and if we get
involved in them we only hinder Him. No, our Captain is on the offensive
and Himself leads His army into battle. When the Lord Jesus said that the
gates of Hades would not prevail against His Church, He was not talking
in defensive terms at all. Those gates are here described as "strongholds",
and in both cases the indications are that God's people should be an invading
force, entering into enemy territory in His name and rescuing men and situations
from Satan's thraldom.
THE parenthesis begins by warning us against the weapons of the world.
So far as we are concerned these are forbidden. Christ assured Pilate that
since His Kingdom was not of this world His servants would not fight as
other men do. Every sphere of human life has its own conflicts and its suitable
weapons. In the spiritual warfare all these weapons of the flesh are worse
than useless. What have the people of God to do with those strivings and
agitations which are so much the feature of earthly conflicts in which attempts
are made to "down" somebody or something which offends or threatens them?
We are not wrestling with flesh and blood, and so we are not to use the means
which men normally employ to get their own way. Ours is a different warfare,
and it demands quite different methods. Not carnal! Not merely human! Not
what natural man can provide.
WHEN, however, all attempts at human effort are renounced and discarded,
then there is an opportunity for God to prove His own power which is indeed
mighty. It may not appear to be so. The very fact that these weapons are
spiritual and based on prayer means that they are despised and regarded as
futile by men of the world or even by Christians who are influenced by the
world's attitudes. In reality, though, "spiritual" does not mean feeble or
ineffectual -- far from it. These are the only weapons which can subdue the
great spiritual enemies of Christ and His people, and overthrow their strongholds.
They consist in experience, exercise and use of the name of Jesus.
The apostles found this name weapon enough in their day. Alas, since
then the Church has often turned to more earthly methods with a consequent
loss of true power. Thank God that all through the centuries, though, there
have been believers who have gained victories and brought enemies into subjection
to the will of Christ by humble and holy lives and believing prayer. This
parenthetical verse merits much more consideration than it usually gets from
God's battling people.
"GOD IS ABLE TO MAKE ALL GRACE ABOUND UNTO YOU;
THAT YE, HAVING ALWAYS ALL SUFFICIENCY IN EVERYTHING,
MAY ABOUND UNTO EVERY GOOD WORK."
2 Corinthians 9:8
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