|Vol. 13, No. 6, Nov. - Dec. 1984
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
"HAIL, ABRAHAM'S GOD AND MINE!"
(Names by which Abraham came to know God)
3. EL ELYON -- GOD MOST HIGH
IN our consideration of how Abraham learned more of his God and ours
by means of the names by which he came to call Him we now encounter a new
blessing which came to him: "Blessed be Abram of God Most High (El Elyon
), possessor of heaven and earth" (Genesis 14:19).
Genesis 14 is a unique chapter in this book; there is nothing quite like
it anywhere else. It is the first time in which Biblical history and secular
history coincide and it deals with the affairs of the people of God and also
the affairs of the world outside. Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, is found in
a long list of difficult names which is very different from the lists of
names in chapters 5 and 10. If we could sit down with an atlas of the Middle
East, reading this list and knowing where to look for the places, we would
find that they all fall into position and constitute a map of international
affairs somewhere, we presume, about the year 1800 B.C.
We began the story of Abram in Chapter 12, finding that there and in
Chapter 13 we are given the story of his spiritual history in his life of
relationship with God. Now in Chapter 14 something quite different begins.
For the first eleven verses we are dealing with things from a secular viewpoint,
and Abram has no place in it. But if he could have looked at that atlas,
he would have been faced with something unavoidable and as we look at it
now in imagination, we will find the same thing.
Here we are, some three thousand years later, with our newspapers and
television, and often we look at maps with arrows on them, as well as many
other items and statistics and realise that this is the world in which we
have to live. May I do something which I rarely do and give an extract from
this chapter from the Living Bible.
"Now war filled the land -- Amraphel, king of Shinar, Arioch, king of
Ellasar, Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, and Tidal, king of Goiim, fought against:
Bera, king of Sodom, Birsha, king of Gomorrah, Shinar, king of Admah, Shemeber,
king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (later called Zoar). These kings (of
Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Bela) mobilized their armies in Siddim
Valley (that is, the valley of the Salt Sea). For twelve years they had all
been subject to King Chedorlaomer, but now, in the thirteenth year, they
"One year later, Chedorlaomer and his allies arrived and the slaughter
began. For they were victorious over the following tribes at the places
indicated: The Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim; the Zumim in Ham, the Emim
in the plain of Kiriathaim; the Horites in Mount Seir, as far as Elparan
at the edge of the desert. Then they swung around to Enmishpat (later called
Kadesh) and destroyed the Amalekites, and also the Amorites living in Hazazan-tamar.
"But now the other army, that of the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Zeboiim
and Bela, unsuccessfully attacked Chedorlaomer and his allies as they were
in the Salt Sea Valley (four kings against five). As it happened, the valley
was full of asphalt pits. And as the army of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah
fled, some slipped into the pits, and the remainder fled to the mountains
This is a long passage for me to quote and I do not know if it has any
mistranslations, but I give it to bring it to our notice in a vivid way.
It all comes alive, doesn't it? We then read, as he was on the march with
his armies, Chedorlaomer captured Lot, the nephew of Abram. It is at this
point (verse 12) that Abram the Hebrew became involved in the story. And
there was no avoiding the involvement; it was the world in which he had to
live. As the Lord Jesus said in John 17, we are not "of this world" but we
are in it, and whatever be the temperament or the life style of the man of
God, sooner or later he cannot avoid some sort of confrontation with his
contemporary world, with the Chedorlaomer of this world and his allies. Abram
was a man of God and therefore, as this story makes very clear to us, he
was independent of the kings of this [101/102] world
because his citizenship was in heaven, but he found that independence is
by no means the same thing as immunity; he could not opt out of contemporary
From time to time there are some of the people of God who try to do this.
To them the world is such an evil place and politics such a dirty game, that
they would like to ignore Chedorlaomer and Co. But it cannot be done. It
is true that they refuse to dabble in politics, but perhaps they vote. Even
if not, when they are ill, they are usually glad enough to use the National
Health Service. And if, to avoid dabbling with the world, they refuse that,
they are still obliged to make use of the Electricity Board and its services.
Every time they turn on their taps, they are indebted to the Water Board.
However much such folk may desire to have nothing to do with the world and
to adopt a 'back to nature' sort of set-up, they cannot avoid being caught
up in the economic life of the world around them. It is true that the world
is bad, but even the most pious cannot entirely opt out of it.
Sooner or later, the armies of Chedorlaomer will catch up with us or
come our way. In the thirties there was a very wealthy man who, seeing the
way in which world affairs were going, decided to get right away from it
all. He looked around the globe to discover the best sort of place to go
to, and finally sank all his savings in the purchase of a remote South Sea
island. But the name of that island was Guadacanal! That was the least peaceful
spot on earth! The story may be apocryphal -- but it makes a good point!
"The kings of the earth arise, and their rulers take counsel together
..." but whether they like it or not, Abram's nephew is caught up in the
affairs of this world by the advances of the armies of Elam, and Abram becomes
involved, willy-nilly. What we are to notice, though, is that Abram made
no attempt to opt out of responsibilities. He found himself in a difficult
situation, but he faced it positively and actively. He mobilised his limited
forces and set out to rescue his nephew; by a clever manoeuvre and the right
use of his forces, he achieved his aim and returned victoriously. Lot was
rescued from the hands of the king of Elam and his allies.
It was on his return from the conflict against one king that Abram met
a king on the other side. This was Bera, the king of Sodom. Bera emerged
from his hiding, perhaps he crawled out of the pits of slime into which he
had fallen, but he was ready with his offer of patronage. So Abram found
himself in a very peculiar situation. The two kings had been on opposite
sides in this war; Abram had just been fighting again Chedorlaomer of Elam
and thus, in a very undesirable way, found himself on the same side as Bera
of Sodom. Now there was little to choose between the two, and one imagines
that probably Bera was the worse of the two, yet it was as though Abram had
been forced to a kind of alliance with him, whether he liked it or not.
There was no help for it. Lot had been captured. Lot had got to be rescued.
Abram could not delay in order to screen his allies or assure himself of
the purity of his associates. The job had to be done, and to do it he seemed
to be on the same side as Bera of Sodom. It is thus that life sometimes plays
strange tricks on us so that the people of God can find themselves associated
with those whom Francis Schaeffer calls, 'not allies but co-belligerents'
which are two very different things. On gospel grounds they may find themselves
rubbing shoulders with undesirable people, but that is the way that Christians
may have to take in their contemporary world. They will be right if they
follow in the path of faithful Abraham, not opting out of responsibilities
because of the peculiar people they meet in pursuance of them, but prepared
to be called of God to stand for the right and to make such a stand their
So Abram found himself on the same side as Bera, the king of Sodom, not
because he agreed with him (heaven forbid!) nor because he liked being associated
with him, but simply because for the time being they were going in the same
direction. Abram was true to his God and to his ideals and he kept going
on down the straight path and it brought him into a very tricky situation.
A challenge came to him, for the king of Sodom welcomed him and tried to make
him an offer. Our great interest must centre on how Abram responded to this
apparently friendly offer. Just as the meeting was going to happen, another
king appeared in the form of that strange figure, Melchizedek, the king of
Who was Melchizedek? Was he merely a local Canaanite ruler? We might
have thought so but for the wonderful aura about him in the light of what
the rest of the Scriptures tell us. We are [102/103]
able to look at him with hindsight, both because of Psalm 110 and the fact
that that psalm is quoted no less than seventeen times in the New Testament.
Who is this strange man who figures so largely in Christian thinking? Who
is this king who emerges from his city and comes down into the Valley of
Shaveh to meet Abram before he has to face the king of Sodom? One commentator
points out that in a story so full of kings, Melchizedek was the only king
to whom Abram would bow. He was the man who put the story of Abram's encounter
with the world in its right perspective.
Melchizedek was the one who helped to preserve Abram's principles in
his confrontation with the world, and he did so in the name of El Elyon
, God Most High. Recognising his greatness, Abram gave him tithes of all
-- "see how great this man is" (Hebrews 7:4); and in return Melchizedek,
king and priest of El Elyon, gave Abram bread and wine in the name
of God who is God Most High. Fortified with these provisions from the priest-king
of Salem, Abram was able to meet the challenge, saying to the king of Sodom:
"I have lifted my hand and have sworn to the LORD, whom I now know to be
also God Most High, maker of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread
or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, so that the world can never say
that it has made Abram rich." My association is limited to that short distance
of my pilgrimage when you happened to be going my way, but I care nothing
for you and I will not have it said that I have received anything from you.
I may go along with you, but I don't need you. My sole confidence is in
El Elyon, God Most High.
We may have to live alongside and work alongside of strange people. We
may have to help and sympathise with a whole collection of those to whom
we do not belong; we may have to endure rising prices and enjoy rising wages
along with some very bad people. We may find ourselves deeply involved in
some of the happenings in the world, but we do not belong to that world.
We will not be beholden to any of them and neither will we be afraid of any
of them or their opinions. Our citizenship is in heaven.
That is a great truth and for Abram it was put into words by Melchizedek
who disclosed to him this new name by which he called his God, Yahweh
, the new name of El Elyon, God Most High. We believe that this
world was made by Him; we believe that everything in it is sustained by God
Most High who is maker of heaven and earth. We believe that the welfare of
His people is in the hands of this God Most High. The kings of the earth
may arise and their rulers take counsel together, so that we feel scared and
have a sinking feeling within at what is happening in our contemporary world
and what threatens to come near to us and our families, but by God's grace
we will not be afraid of the world around us nor will we be dependent upon
that world. We are those who lift up our hand to El Elyon, God Most
High. He who is our Melchizedek, our Priest-King, the Lord Jesus Christ, has
blessed us by introducing us to the God who is supreme. He it is who is far
greater than all the kings of the earth, and He is the only one to whom we
will bow. We will not be afraid of Chedorlaomer nor will we be beholden to
Bera, because we trust in the Lord who is God Most High. In the strength of
that knowledge we will watch this evening's news and read tomorrow's newspaper.
(To be continued)
"LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY"
Reading: Matthew 6:9-13
OF the two prayers of the Lord Jesus recorded verbatim, one was His prayer
for the Church given in John 17 and the other -- usually described as "The
Lord's Prayer" -- was the pattern prayer which the Church should pray for
itself. Neither of these two prayers deals directly with world needs, but
concentrates on God's people. This is for two reasons: firstly, because the
Church is of prime importance to God and secondly, because He plans to use
His Church to reach out to the world around.
So we have this prayer, not quoted in full in Luke's Gospel but manifestly
important. Some [103/104] repeat it too often and
so are in danger of using it as a mere routine, others prefer to use it more
occasionally and some may feel that it is not altogether suitable. We all
agree that it has the nature of a pattern prayer. It contains six definite
petitions and six is a number usually associated with man. We consider it,
then, as the prayer that redeemed people should prayer for their own assembly
and also for the Church as a whole.
Before I proceed to elaborate, though, I must stress the fact that it
involves personal committal by those who pray it. Prayer calls for God's
action; it is offered to God, our heavenly Father, since He alone can bring
about what is being asked. Nevertheless this prayer calls for the action
or co-operation of the praying Church. It can only rightly be spoken by those
who are wholly committed to its outworking in their own experience. This
is clearly shown by the fact that the request for forgiveness is made dependent
on our willingness to forgive. We are to pray then:
1. That the Church's priority should be the honour of God's name
"Hallowed be thy name." We live in a world where God's name is not held
in reverence. Faith tells us that this is a situation with which the Almighty
is well able to cope, so our prayer is something much more positive than
feeble well-wishing. The fact is, however, that He has placed that name upon
us, His people, entrusting us with the privilege of bearing that name before
the world, even at great cost to ourselves (Acts 9:15-16).
"Hallowed by Thy name." This may perhaps be better understood if we consider
its opposite, namely dishonour for that name. Paul charged unfaithful Israel
with bringing dishonour to God's name among the Gentiles (Romans 2:24). The
Church must be saved from this. We might use a common phrase if we described
it as 'letting the Lord down'. It would not then be altering the sense of
this petition if we prayed, 'Please Father, help us not to let You down today'.
Where the Lord's name is hallowed, His presence is made real. The first
church in Jerusalem was by no means composed of mature Christians; even its
leaders still had much to learn. Nevertheless it was outstanding for its
honouring of the name, and for the presence of the Lord among them. Some were
won over, some were afraid to come too close and some were violently enraged;
but none could remain indifferent to this reality. Those who hallow the name
of the Lord live in close awareness of His presence and have their acts and
attitudes governed by that holy nearness.
His name is holy in heaven; it must be hallowed here among us. This is
the very first sentence in the prayer. It is the primary request which the
Church must make. Above all else we are a community entrusted with the honour
of the Lord's name, called to make the visible beings of this world and
the invisible beings of the other world know what our Lord is really like.
Two Old Testament prophets give us a picture of what the Church should
be like. At the close of his messages and visions concerning God's spiritual
house, the prophet Zechariah spoke of a glorious climax when His people would
have HOLY UNTO THE LORD inscribed everywhere, even on their transport and
their home furniture. That is surely a picture of how the Church should live.
The transcending feature of that glorious city is given by another prophet,
Ezekiel: "The name of the city from that day shall be JEHOVAH-SHAMMAH --
The LORD is there" (Ezekiel 48:35). This must surely be our first prayer for
the Church today.
2. That the Church should apply the effective power of God's kingdom
to present events and circumstances
It is, of course, right for the Church to pray for the glorious Return
of the Saviour from heaven. I am not sure, though, that this was what was
meant by the second petition: "Thy kingdom come". The Lord Jesus once said:
"If I by the Spirit of God cast out demons, then is the kingdom of God come
upon you" (Matthew 12:28). This applies not only to demon-possession but
to every situation which Satan creates in this world of ours. It is possible
for the power of God's kingdom to check or change it, and that is to be
done by means of the believing prayer of God's people.
There are so many instances of how the Church's prayer has moved God's
hand of intervention and deliverance that perhaps our wisest approach is
to look again at a most striking example described for us in the book of
the Acts. [104/105] In Chapter 12 we read of a critical
event in the story of the early Christians. Peter, Christ's chosen servant,
was isolated in Herod's prison and seemingly doomed to an early death. In
those days there were no possibilities of appeals or protest marches, nothing
at all could be done in the realm of human activities, but there was --
as there still is -- a means by which superior power from a greater kingdom
than Herod's could be brought to bear upon his situation. The Church could
pray! And it did just that!
"Thy kingdom come!" It did come there in Jerusalem in an astounding way.
Whoever heard of chains falling off a man's hands? However could a great
iron gate open of its own accord? And what shall we say of the disastrous
collapse of Herod himself down in Caesarea? It was the power of God's kingdom
which produced the deliverances and it all stemmed from the simple prayers
of saints who could hardly believe it when the answer came. Corporate prayer
is not just a luxury, and not only a means by which benefits are obtained
from heaven; it is the effective power by which the kingdom of God is brought
to bear upon events and circumstances so that God's will is indeed done on
earth. This leads on to our third petition:
3. That the Church's obedience should be according to heavenly standards
The Church is meant to be a community of those who both approve the will
of God and practise it. So much has been said and written about doing God's
will that it hardly seems appropriate to go again over all that ground. It
may perhaps be profitable if we take note of the feature of obedience to
the divine will which is here specified by the Lord Jesus, namely that it
should be, "As in heaven, so on earth". We readily agree that what helps to
make heaven so wonderful is that there no other will than the will of God
ever operates. We do not know a lot about heaven, but I think that a few
comments may be helpful:
i. Obedience in heaven is ordered and not impulsive
It is amazing how many differences of opinion there can be among Christians
as to what is God's will in certain given circumstances. It is even more
surprising how readily we can speak or act impulsively, erroneously imagining
that this is what God wants. In heaven there is no such disharmony and no
well-intentioned blunders. Somehow or other the heavenly beings know how to
register what it is that God wants and in this way the fulfilling of that
will is completely orderly and marked by heavenly harmony. Now Christians
are not angels. For us it is often a problem to know just what is God's will
on a given occasion. However we have advantages, for we have His Word in our
hands and His Holy Spirit in our hearts. There may be matters about which
we are uncertain and at times we can only venture tentatively forward in some
enterprise, trusting that the Lord will either confirm or check us, according
to His will, but we have clear principles as to how we should proceed and
as to how we should behave ourselves in the church of the living God (1 Timothy
In heaven they know God's will and they obediently do it. This part of
our prayer asks that in a world of indifference or rebellion, the Church
should provide a community where God's will can be made known and worked
out in daily life.
ii. Obedience in heaven is constant and not spasmodic
In heaven things run smoothly; there is none of the start-stop life-style
which is all too often a feature of things here on earth, even among the
truly consecrated. All too often ours is a patchy story of alternating success
and failure. Can we not improve on this? Well, it is clear that of ourselves
we cannot -- and that explains our need for making it a matter of prayer.
I used to think that this was largely a repetition of the previous request
and asked for the sovereign will of God to be imposed upon earthly affairs.
That is a right way to pray, but this mention of heaven indicates that we
are not now thinking of an imposition of the sovereign will of God on all
and sundry but rather of the heavenly regime where that will is constantly
being accepted and put into practice. If, as Paul wrote to the Philippians,
"we are a colony of heaven" (3:20), then we should not only enjoy heavenly
status but also render heavenly obedience.
In this prayer we pray for ourselves but we also pray for another. There
are prominent servants of God in His Church whose names are well known. Any
book with their name on is bound to sell well; any meeting which they are
[105/106] billed to address is sure to be well attended.
We thank God for them and must remember them in our prayers. But for everyone
of them, there are thousands of unrecognized servants of Christ, some of
whom see little success for their labours and get no publicity at all. Yet
in their hidden sphere or their tough assignment they are devoted to the
will of God. For them it is harder just to keep plodding on in steady faithfulness
yet, if they do so, they reflect the kind of selfless service rendered by
most of the angels. We know of the great Michael and the privileged Gabriel,
but for the most part those heavenly beings are anonymous and quite content
just to be "ministering spirits" (Hebrews 1:14). Heaven is full of them:
they do the will of God continually. May the Church be just as full of them
and may we be among them: "Thy will be done, as in heaven so on earth".
iii. Obedience in heaven is joyful and never grudging or complaining
Heaven is a happy place. No-one there resents the prominence of others
and no-one indulges in self-pity. Any church whose members serve Christ
together in such a spirit approximates to that house of God which is the
gate of heaven. It may be argued that there is no evidence of any suffering
being involved up there; we have no grounds for imagining that the angels
find it costly to give the Lord their constant devotion to His will. Here
on earth, though, the circumstances are very different; those who have best
served the will of God have always been people who were prepared to suffer
for the sake of His name. Perhaps, then, it is too much to ask that the most
obedient Christians should be the happiest and least complaining ones. Our
obedience may be as ready and as constant as that which obtains in heaven,
but is it possible that it should always be accompanied by heavenly joy?
Well, let us consider the facts. Even the enemies of the first martyr,
Stephen, had to confess that in his hour of trial he had a heavenly radiance:
"And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like
the face of an angel" (Acts 6:15). I do not know what angel-faces look like,
but I feel confident that they express serene joy. Doing God's will had that
effect on Stephen; in his case it was certainly a case of "as in heaven,
so on earth". As the stories unfold in the book of the Acts, we see the same
evidence of heaven's joy filling the hearts of those who were devoted to
doing the will of God, and this spurs us on to continue in prayer that the
Church in our day may be delivered from all complaint and self-pity and continue
rejoicing, even in the midst of tribulation.
After all, who is the central Figure in heaven? Is it not our Lord who
not only bore the greatest pain in His obedience to the Father's will, but
did so rejoicingly? The angels may know little or nothing of the cost of
obedience, but their Lord and ours knows more than us all. We may be sure
that when He told His disciples to include this petition in their prayer,
He had no light or superficial concept of what was involved. Yet He told
them to pray it, and He did so knowing that heaven's joy always accompanies
4. That the Church's sufficiency should be in God alone
"Give us this day our daily bread." The word 'bread' is surely a comprehensive
one, referring to all the needs of our life here on earth. I personally have
had to make this request when I literally had to rely on the Lord for food
to eat, but this is not the normal experience of Christians, though the
very words serve to remind us that we depend on God's providence even in
this matter of literal food. Any individual Christian may make this a daily
prayer, and especially so as it surely includes the spiritual 'daily bread'
which we seek from God's Word. Our souls need feeding as well as our bodies.
It is therefore quite in order for the believer to use this petition as part
of his daily exercise in prayer. If, however, we are considering the whole
prayer in the suggested context of the manner in which the Church should
pray for itself, the implication is much wider than the personal, for it
asks that the Church should always have an up-to-date experience of God's
provision for all its needs.
i. Material needs
Thousands of years ago, Abram was returning from a strenuous expedition,
doubtless tired and hungry, when he was met by Melchizedek, God's king-priest,
who not only pronounced a blessing on him but provided him with bread and
wine (Genesis 14:18). It was after this that the king of Sodom came out to
meet him and made him the seemingly generous offer of goods. Abram's reply
was a most emphatic negative: "I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, maker
of heaven [106/107] and earth, that I would not take
a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, lest you should say,
I have made Abram rich" (Genesis 14:23).
Whether or not Abram might have fallen to the subtle temptation if he
had not received Melchizedek's timely reminder of God's sufficiency, we do
not know. From the fact that he took up the new title of "God Most High"
from the priest it looks as though the encounter had been of great significance.
In any case the principle is clear: the man of faith never allows himself
to be beholden to the world as though his God were not sufficient to meet
all his needs.
The New Testament frequently warns us that we must be prepared for the
world's enmity, but nowhere does it suggest that we should seek the world's
patronage. 'What shall we do, then?' asks the needy Church, 'when our own
resources are not sufficient for the occasion?' This prayer gives the answer.
We must turn our eyes up again to our Father in heaven and pray, "Give us
this day our daily bread". It is reasonable that the world should
scoff at us for our faith, but it is quite unacceptable that it should have
to take pity on us for our lack of it.
There are many ways in which different churches express their faith in
God as they obtain financial provision for their work. It is not for us
to criticise others because they adopt methods which we have not been used
to, but we can join in the united prayer that the Church of Christ should
always be a testimony to God's sufficiency.
Early on in our married life, my wife and I were greatly helped and challenged
by some advice which Watchman Nee had given to his Chinese fellow-workers.
It so happened that I was working on a MS of his messages on finance at the
time and we shared together his advice to those whose support came entirely
from unsolicited gifts. He said:
"Our attitude, our words and our actions must all declare that He alone
is our source of supply. As God's servants we must show forth the abundant
resources of our God. We must not be afraid to appear wealthy before
people. We must never be untrue, but let us keep our financial needs secret,
even if our secrecy should lead people to conclude that we are well off when
we have nothing at all ...".
We took this to heart and in the years that followed encouraged each
other to live by this rule. It is not easy but I gladly testify that all
our needs were met, not in stinted measure, but "according to His riches
in glory by Christ Jesus". Watchman Nee went on to say:
"I feel repelled when I hear God's servants emphasise the fact that they
are living by faith. ... Even should people conclude from our mode of living
that we have a private income, and in consequence withhold their gifts, we
do not mind. I would counsel my younger brethren in the ministry not to
talk of their personal needs, or of their faith in God. ... The more faith
there is, the less talk there will be about it."
ii. Spiritual needs
"Give us this day our daily bread." This prayer is valid for spiritual
as well as for material needs -- perhaps even more valid. As the editor
of this magazine I find a phrase 'spiritual food' often used by correspondents.
Many of them are engaged in ministry, often in distant lands, so I can appreciate
their spiritual hunger and am humbly grateful for any contribution we can
make for their need of 'daily bread'. At times, however, readers express
their gratitude for the articles because they find a great lack of spiritual
food in their own local fellowship. This does not necessarily mean that the
Bible is belittled but rather that what they have does not seem to minister
Christ to them in a living way.
This ought not to be. It is not due to lack of natural abilities but
to some deeper deficiency in the spiritual realm or to a mistaken idea of
what preaching should be. The Lord Jesus is not only the light of the world;
He is also the bread of life. He not only commissioned Peter to be "a fisher
of men" but also commanded him to feed the lambs and the sheep (John 21:15
and 17). If the Good Shepherd leads His sheep into green pastures
, those who are His under-shepherds ought surely to do the same.
Why is it, I wonder, that the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels
is that of feeding the hungry? If there are some choice souls who have special
gifts of healing in the churches, by all means let them exercise their gift,
but let us not lose sight of the fact that the most Christlike miracle of
all is that of feeding hungry souls and perhaps the most Christlike gift
in the Church is that of 'pastor'. [107/108]
"Take heed to yourselves," Paul urged the Ephesian elders, "to feed the
church of God" (Acts 20:28). "The elders among you I exhort," wrote Peter,
"Feed the flock of God which is among you" (1 Peter 5:1-2). In the light
of all this, we find new depth in the Church's petition that it never lack
ministries by which its members may feed on Christ in their hearts by faith.
5. That the Church's communion should be unclouded
I suggest that this covers the clause on forgiveness which deals with
our relatedness to one another and also to the Lord Himself. When God's people
gather together they should not do so as miserable sinners pleading for
forgiveness but as forgiven sinners, praising God for His great grace. At
first sight this may render our present petition unnecessary, and indeed
many have regarded it as such and been unwilling to use the prayer. We dare
not do that, for Matthew records that Jesus immediately followed this pattern
prayer with some very strong words about our forgiveness of one another. What,
then, does it mean?
Probably a consideration of 1 John 1 will help us to grasp the point
at issue. The apostle's concern is for fellowship, our fellowship with the
Father and the Son and also our fellowship with one another. Although we
are forgiven sinners who already possess eternal life, there is always the
possibility of some shadow coming between us and our Lord as well as between
each of us with the other. This shadow, when it is caused by some fault on
our part, must be dealt with if fellowship is to be freely enjoyed. So again
and again we need to confess our sins and humbly claim fresh cleansing from
them if the flow of loving fellowship is to be maintained. It is in this
context of forgiveness that the statement is made: "If we walk in the light,
as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood
of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).
Those who want the channels of communication with God to be kept open
must be careful to keep them open between themselves as well. It is true
that our first committal to Christ brings total and lasting forgiveness: "In
whom we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses
according to the riches of his grace" (Ephesians 1:7). Nothing can alter
this. God has nothing against us. He has "blotted out as a thick cloud" our
transgressions, and "as a cloud" our sins (Isaiah 44:22). It is impossible,
then, that this prayer for forgiveness should question the validity of our
redemption or suggest that we need to come again to Christ as if we were
those who were without eternal salvation.
What it does show is that we must not minimise the day-to-day seriousness
of unforgiven sin. We cannot blithely offend the Lord and then take it for
granted that nothing really matters because some time ago we met Christ at
the Cross and received pardon for all our sins. Nor can we claim to be forgiven
sinners and then ourselves be unforgiving. Just as the previous petition
spoke of the need for bread as a daily one, so in a sense this prayer can
remind us of a daily -- or even hourly -- exercise about forgiveness.
It might be suggested that the epistles put this matter in the reverse
order, for there we are enjoined to forgive each other "even as God also
in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32). In fact the order is unimportant;
what matters is the double issue concerning forgiveness. Perhaps it was because
the Lord Jesus knew well how prone His Church might be to receive forgiveness
without exercising it, that He inserted this necessary petition.
It is not a matter of redemption but of communion. It is noteworthy that
this prayer makes no mention of the Holy Spirit, a somewhat surprising omission.
Could it be that somewhere in this request there is a hidden reference to
Him, for it is certain that no spiritual fellowship is possible without Him?
I wonder if we might paraphrase this part of the prayer thus: 'Please Father,
help us to live in the good of the cleansing blood of Thy Son that we may
in no way grieve Thy Holy Spirit who alone maintains our fellowship with
Thee and with one another". That seems to me to make sense.
6. That the Church's conflicts should result in victory
This final petition is not easy to understand or explain. The Lord Jesus
was led out by the Spirit to be tempted, so we must expect to be tested.
In His case, however, the result of Satan's attacks was always victory for
Christ, so we reasonably make this prayer that the Church too may be given
the victory through Him. [108/109]
I have not been able to find any explanation which satisfies me, but
I venture to suggest a possibility which is not altogether an exposition
but is, I feel, true to experience. Can this prayer be a plea to be saved
from giving any advantage to Satan by our foolish behaviour, with an additional
request that if and when we fail in this respect, God will still give us
deliverance from the Evil One? I offer two examples from God's Word:
i. David at Ziklag. 1 Samuel 29 and 30
There can be no doubt about the calamity at Ziklag being the result of
David's falling into the temptation of escaping into the land of the Philistines
(1 Samuel 27:1). With a complete lapse of faith and after many experiences
of deliverance, he argued with himself: "I shall now perish one day by the
hand of Saul: there is nothing better for me than that I should escape into
the land of the Philistines ...". Nothing better?! There could be nothing
worse. It was by that attempt to infiltrate into the ranks of Saul's enemies
that David opened the door for Satan to attack him. He had been led into
temptation. Nevertheless, the Lord is merciful and in the end David was complete)y
delivered from the Evil One, with the final triumphant result that "David
recovered all" (1 Samuel 30:18), and was able to record that "the Lord ...
has preserved and delivered ..." (v.23).
ii. Peter at Antioch. Galatians 2:11-21
Here is a New Testament example of the same principle. There can be no
question but that Peter and Barnabas and the others opened a door for Satan
into the church situation at Antioch when they led a separatist movement
within the group of believers. It was so serious that Paul had no option
but to rebuke Peter publicly. He had indeed been led into temptation.
Happily Satan was defeated. The Lord delivered His people from the Evil
One. We are given no details, but feel justified in presuming that the challenge
of the cross brought by Paul (v.20) melted the hearts and humbled the misled
minds of Peter and the others so that fellowship was restored and the truth
of the gospel maintained. It was a narrow thing! But it was a spiritual victory.
Even when we can be blamed for drifting into temptation, we can still prove
God's grace to rescue and restore us.
This, I suggest, is really what lies behind this sixth petition in the
prayer. And if men like David and Peter needed to pray it, how much more
do the rest of us! That is perhaps why the Lord Jesus made sure that it formed
part of the suggested prayer for His Church.
* * *
My Bible ends the prayer at this point. The margin, however, informs
me that "Many authorities, some ancient, add For thine is the kingdom
and the power and the glory, for ever. Amen". I am so glad that the do. I
like an Amen at the end of my prayers. And what is more, I would hate that
the last words in my prayer should be 'the Evil One'. I must certainly pray
to be delivered from him, but I do not like the idea of finishing my prayer
on this note. It seems so much better for all of us if we retain the customary
form and finish with this majestic three-fold attribute to our Triune God.
Incidentally that adds a seventh clause to the prayer. Following the
six petitions we have this seventh triumphant affirmation of faith. To me
that makes the prayer perfect.
FURTHER STUDIES FROM MARK'S GOSPEL
J. Alec Motyer
4. Mark 10:1-31
THERE are three stories in this section, and they are grouped together
in that particular way that Mark assembles his material in this stage of
his Gospel. As we have already seen, the Lord Jesus was quietly making His
way to Jerusalem. The destination had not yet been declared but the journey
was in progress, and Mark notes for us the stages of the journey. He had
been in Galilee and Capernaum and now He made His way South and at some point
crossed [109/110] over the river: "He arose from thence
and cometh into the borders of Judea and beyond Jordan" (v.1). In verse
32 we are told that "they were in the way, going up to Jerusalem". This,
then, marks the limits of the present section, so that we can confidently
take verses 1 to 31 as a portion divided off by the inspiration of the Holy
Spirit working through Mark the writer.
Three Linked Stories
In this section there are three stories. This is the only place where
Mark employs the plural, 'multitudes', and it is possible that he means us
to see Jesus as being approached by one group of people after another as
He approached the Trans-jordan area. Out of a mass of material, the Evangelist
calls our attention to three things which happened, first the Pharisees came,
then they brought children to Jesus and then, in the context of these multitudes,
there was a single individual, the one whom we call "the rich young ruler".
The rest of the section, right up to verse 31, is concerned with the conversation
that the Lord had with this wealthy young man and then with His disciples
on the same subject. So there are these three incidents: the Pharisees and
divorce; the bringing of the children and the touch of Jesus upon them; and
the young man with his question about eternal life.
There is one little link that runs right through these stories, and it
is the incomprehension of the disciples. They were not quite 'with it'.
So we find that "in the house the disciples began to ask him again of this
matter" (v.10). They could not readily grasp what Jesus was saying but were
in continuing need of his special, personal instruction. Again this note
of unawareness of the mind of their Master is introduced by the fact that
they rebuked those who brought young children to Jesus (v.13) and "when
Jesus saw it he was moved with indignation". Finally "the disciples were
amazed at his words" (v.24) when the Lord informed them that it was hard
for those who have riches to enter into the kingdom of God. It is good for
us to notice how Mark continues to underline this factor, so that we should
be reminded that always in this pilgrimage we are in need of the illuminating
teaching of Christ and must bring our own spontaneous reactions under His
In the first section about the Pharisees and divorce, we need to bring
our minds under the teaching of Jesus. In the second, the incident of the
children, we need to bring our hearts under the heart of Christ, so that
we react to things as He did. In the third section, we need to see the whole
issue of kingdom membership and to bring our lives under the direction of
Christ. We are in constant need of the instructive, directive, and exemplary
care of our Saviour. We have to recognise ourselves in this matter. As the
disciples walked on, we walk on with them, and we see ourselves over and
over again, often in their stupidity and in their failures.
If we take the first story, that of the Pharisees with their query about
divorce and the answer of Jesus, and the third one, that of the rich young
man and his question about entering the kingdom, and the answer of Jesus,
we find that these two are linked together by the idea of the costliness
of living for the Lord. There is a high demand to be fulfilled as far as the
Pharisees and divorce are concerned; the children of God are to live by a
higher ideal than the one current among the children of the world. So far
as the young man is concerned, he was faced with this costliness with the
demand that he must give away all he had to fall in behind the Lord Jesus
and follow Him. The Spirit emphasises to us the costliness of discipleship.
The second and third stories are linked together by the theme of entering
the kingdom. The children who were brought were, in the words of the Lord
Jesus, normative kingdom candidates, whereas the young man who seemed to
have everything in his favour did not in fact enter the kingdom at all. It
is a matter of entering the kingdom and living within the kingdom. The way
in is marked with simplicity, but the life within the kingdom is most costly.
This has been stated thus: 'Salvation is free, but it costs everything you
1. Jesus and Marriage
We take the stories one by one. The first concerns the Pharisees, and
from this we note how seriously Jesus takes the high standards of the Scriptures.
He takes them seriously, as something that His people are to live by. It
is clear that the Pharisees could not be beaten for subtlety. Their test question
was "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?" (v.2). What a crafty question
to be asked in that particular locality! Where was Jesus? He was across Jordan
(v.1). That was the realm of Herod, the Herod who married his brother's wife.
John the Baptist had lost his head because he denounced that
[110/111] marriage, so it must have seemed a very cunning means of
testing Jesus. If He sided with Herod, they had a handle to use against Him
and if He went along with John, then they could leave Herod to settle Him.
But how marvellously straight the Lord Jesus was for, when He replied
to this question of marriage, divorce and re-marriage, He did it not only
in terms of husbands but also in terms of wives, not only having a word for
Herod but -- an even more risky thing -- He had a word for the ear of Herodias:
"Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another commits adultery against
her, and if she herself shall put away her husband ..." (v.11). What an
example of integrity this sets for us. Well, let us quietly make our way
through this most important but terribly sensitive passage. God forbid that
we should claim to exhaust it or to make clear all the ramifications of a
dreadfully tangled subject, but we will seek to follow along with the Lord
Jesus as His teaching emerged.
He speaks of divorce as a Scriptural permission.
First of all Jesus speaks of divorce. "What did Moses command?" He asked
(v.3) and they replied that Moses permitted to write a certificate of divorce
and put her away. To this Jesus commented: "For the hardness of your hearts
he wrote you this commandment". He spoke of divorce as a Scriptural permission:
"Moses commanded ...". In the mouth of the Lord Jesus, as in the mouth of
the Pharisees, and indeed in the mouth of every Biblically-instructed believer,
what Moses commanded, God commanded. The word of Moses is the Word of God.
So the Lord Jesus took note, along with the Pharisees, that divorce is a
permission granted by God. He distinguishes, of course, what God permitted
as compared with what God ideally or absolutely wills. There is a marriage
ideal, but within that God has something to say.
He speaks of divorce as a merciful concession.
Within that marriage ideal, our merciful God made a concession. It was
not that the concession matched His will, but it was required by the human
heart. So the Lord Jesus goes on from speaking of divorce as a Biblical
permission, to speaking of it as a concession -- a concession to the hardness
of the heart. Divorce is nowhere commanded in Scripture, but mercifully and
graciously, the door is left on the swing. The Bible leaves us in no doubt
that this is not the highest way; it is not the best way; it is not the God-honouring
way; it does not match the perfect will of God. There is, however, a situation
of hardness of heart which means that for divorce there is a permission granted
and a concession made.
He speaks of divorce as a declension from the will of God.
"But" says the Lord Jesus, "from the beginning of the creation, male
and female made he them. For this cause shall a man leave his father and
mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh" (vv.6-8).
Jesus then amplifies in His own authoritative way that statement of Genesis,
adding, "So that they are no more two but one". We have seen, then, that
the verses show us that Jesus speaks of divorce, first as a permission,
then as a concession to the incurable sinfulness and hardness of the human
heart, but thirdly as a declension from the will of God. Divorce is not what
God proposed; it is a declension from His will.
He speaks of the possibility of divorce.
We must remember that the Lord Jesus speaks of the Old Testament, the
Scriptures as He had them. In verse 11 He therefore goes on to speak of the
possibility of a man putting away his wife and here, as always, He speaks
as one who can bring the Scriptures of the old Covenant to their fulfilment,
bringing out the fullness of their meaning.
Now there is only one passage in the Law which deals with this question
of divorce and it is Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The differences of opinion among
the Jewish leaders were partly due to the fact that the information and legislation
regarding divorce was so scanty. This is the only place in the Law where
divorce is dealt with and even then it concerns one narrow statement of the
situation. Nevertheless this passage contains a most significant expression
which the Lord Jesus now proposes to amplify.
The whole matter should be read rather like one sentence, though our
Bibles provide some dividing punctuation: "When a man takes a wife and marries
her, if she find no favour in his eyes because he has found some unseemly
thing in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and gives it into
her hand and sends her out of [111/112] the house,
and she goes out of his house and becomes another man's wife, and the second
husband hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and gives it into
her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the second husband die who
took her to be his wife, her former husband may not take her back again to
be his wife, after that she is defiled." That is the one very narrow segment
of the situation for which Moses legislates.
If we want to follow up the concessionary element which marks the departure
from the ideal, we have only to consider the prophet Hosea to see the godly,
Scriptural, God-honouring way in which he bore the cost of his broken marriage.
Here, however, the Word of God speaks of divorce as a possibility, something
that may happen, though it does not state the grounds for divorce, the "unseemly
thing" which caused the certificate to be given. What it does affirm is that
when that has been done and the wife goes and marries somebody else and
then for some reason or other that marriage comes to an end, the first marriage
cannot be reconstituted after she has been defiled.
As we read this Scripture attentively, we ask, 'What do the words "after
she has been defiled" signify?' It seems to us that the second marriage has
been a defiling thing. But it is not amplified for us; it is just made as
a statement. The Lord Jesus takes this up. He is not going to contradict
the Word of God, so He takes it up and amplifies it, bringing out what is
in the Old Testament to the fullness of its meaning: "Whosoever shall put
away his wife and marry another, commits adultery against her". That is the
defilement. It is the defilement of an adulterous relationship.
In verses 11 and 12 there are two things which we notice. Jesus speaks
of a second marriage. He says that such a marriage terminates the first
marriage by the fact that it is an adultery. This links on with the teaching
of Jesus in Matthew 19:9, where He says that there is an exceptive clause,
namely that a marriage can be terminated on the ground of fornication. In
that case, the course of re-marriage is open. We pursue the matter in the
light of what the Lord said and if we do so, we can reason in this way. Under
the old Covenant, if the marriage laws were fully invoked, then the adulterous
wife would suffer the death penalty, which would consequently terminate
the marriage. It would be the death penalty that would free her partner.
The Lord Jesus was speaking, however, in His own day, the days of the
New Covenant, and the people of God to whom He is speaking no longer have
any capacity to exact the legal death penalty. That, therefore, is not under
consideration, but it provides a basis for what the Lord Jesus has to say.
The meaning of the Old Testament Scriptures was that death was the due penalty
of adultery, but this death was not natural but the result or consequence
of adultery. This, then, shows why the Lord excepted fornication (Matthew
19:9). If the marriage fractures on the ground of sexual immorality and infidelity,
then that is quite a different matter: that marriage can be treated as finished,
annulled, cancelled, just as if one partner had died.
As I have already pointed out, Hosea showed us that there is a more excellent
way that matches the high ideal of God. Nevertheless it remains true that
in the teaching of Jesus death terminates a marriage, leaving the surviving
partner free to contract another marriage. There is no doubt that the question
of marriage, divorce and re-marriage is one of the most complicated, tangled
pastoral issues that any Christian leader may have to face. There is no simplicity
in this matter of pastoral care and advice to be given.
He speaks of the Scriptural ideal of marriage.
I take verses 6 to 8 under a different heading, so that we can treat
them positively, not by comparing them with the sad situation of divorce,
but by noting what they say positively about that divine institution of marriage.
The Lord Jesus reaffirms the Scriptural ideal which was in the mind of the
Creator God. He reminds us, therefore, that marriage is a creation ordinance.
I have spent most of my life as a minister taking marriages and in the introduction
have used one of the most beautiful expressions about marriage which perfectly
sums up the situation in Genesis 1 and 2, saying that "marriage was instituted
by God in the time of man's innocency".
Marriage was instituted by God. It was He who said that it was not good
for man to be alone. Adam perhaps did not at that moment recognise that he
was alone in the whole of creation, but God saw the gap. It is interesting
that in the creation sequence of Genesis 1, when God noted over and over
again that things were good and even very good, that we find Him in Chapter
2 saying, "It is not good ..." (v.18). We then read how, in pursuance of this
divine recognition, God [112/113] brought to him the
perfect provision for his loneliness, the woman who matched his total nature
in every point to be his helper. My paraphrase of the expression, 'an help
meet for him' would be, 'the helper who is his match at every point of his
Marriage is not a concession to our sinfulness: marriage is a provision
for our holiness. It is a creation ordinance, a provision of God so that
we may live perfectly in His image, as is the true definition of our nature.
Marriage is also a distinct way of life (Mark 10:7). "For this cause shall
a man leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife." There must be
a leaving before there can be a true cleaving according to the will of God.
Marriage is also a real union, so Jesus said, "the twain shall become one
flesh" (v.8). This is the decree of Genesis 2:24, but the Lord Jesus underlined
it with His own comment, "They are no more two, but one".
If I had but one thing to leave in your mind, it would be to urge you
to ponder the ideal of marriage as the Lord Jesus has set it out. In these
days of easy divorce, there is a far too facile giving up of marriage responsibility,
so we do well to pray for our own marriage and for all married Christians.
It is quite clear that whether or not I have got the teaching right or complete,
the truth behind this section of the chapter is the determination of Jesus
that the high ideals of Scripture should be taken seriously by all His people.
2. Jesus and the Children
At verse 13 we pass to an extraordinarily different situation, for we
find ourselves looking at Jesus with the little children, a sight full of
the beauty which was so obscured by the tangle and hard-heartedness of the
previous passage. The children were brought together to receive His touch
and were welcomed as the normative members of the kingdom. The 'of' is the
possessive; theirs is the possession of the kingdom -- they are normative
Children are typical in their position of the whole matter of receiving
the kingdom of God: "Verily I say to you, Whosoever shall not receive the
kingdom of God like a little child ..." (v.15). The key idea, of course,
is the idea of gift. I have known commentators [to] go into all manner of
detail as to what characteristic of children the Lord Jesus might have been
isolating when He spoke of them as typical in entering the kingdom. I do
not myself think that they are right when they speak of receptiveness, or
humility, of imaginativeness or trustfulness. All those things may be true
of some children, but they are by no means true of all children. I agree with
those who say that what is being spoken of is just littleness and helplessness
-- the thing that is manifestly true of all children. They have no claim or
cause; the gift of His kingdom to them is altogether a matter of His choice.
He alone can give, and He alone will give. We notice how the heart of Jesus
is engaged in these verses. It is engaged indignantly. "He was moved with
indignation" (v.14) and it was engaged beautifully, "He took them in his
arms and began blessing them fervently, laying his hands upon them" (v.16).
This is the explanation which Mark gives of that little episode. The
words used are the same as those we had when the Lord Jesus folded His arms
around the one little child (9:36); "He took them in his arms". I suppose
that Peter may have known Jesus in his own home and with his own children
so, having his eye trained to a characteristic action, he passed the information
on to Mark, as if saying, 'He did for those children what I saw Him do in
my own home, He just put His arms around them and folded them in those arms'.
In speaking of the Lord laying His hands on them, Mark uses a verb that is
intensive in its meaning, "fervently blessing them". How moved the Lord's
heart was in this blessing.
Here we have an object lesson in how to come into the kingdom of God
-- it is to lie in the arms of Jesus and look to Him as the sole and sufficient
source of blessing. That is our side. His side is to give a total welcome
to all such, being moved in His heart to make us His own, and give us a place
in His kingdom of love. This action clearly shows that the task of bringing
us into the kingdom is His and not ours.
At this point I would like, with great hesitation but with sincere sensitivity,
to say a few words about this matter of children in relation to the kingdom
of God. We are called to live in love in the light of the authority of the
Word of God and not expected to be so confident, so insistent or to register
such claims for the way we understand it as to fall out and divide from other
believers who may have other interpretations of Scripture. We are to live
under the dominion of the Word of God. Having said that, I want now to say
that though we may disagree as to the way in which this passage reaches
out into other [113/114] Scriptures, there is one
most comforting scriptural truth which none of us dare miss, and that is
the way in which the eye of God is set upon our children. However we may
feel it right to apply this in the actuality of church life and quite apart
from any rite or ceremony, there is in the Word of God a distinct doctrine
as to the children of believers. In this case the Lord's blessing was sought
and the blessing was given.
With all my heart and perhaps an unusual passion, I want to encourage
you concerning your children about whom, for all I know, you may at this
moment be anxious. I want you to see your children placed within the embrace
of a covenant God. I connect this action of the Lord Jesus with the clear
statement that was made right at the beginning of things when, in the context
of that covenant, God said to Abraham: "I am God to you and to your children
after you". Let us not confuse ourselves with questions as to how we will
express that in our church procedure, but let us seize upon the truth that
our children, because they are ours, are precious in the sight of God and
He will lay His hands upon them and bless them.
3. Jesus and the Young Ruler
We now come to the third of the stories and consider the case of the
rich young man who came to the Lord Jesus. The previous two stories have
emphasised the high standards of Scripture, to be taken seriously as the
norm of kingdom membership and the basic simplicity of coming into the kingdom
by falling into the arms of Jesus and receiving His blessing. Now in this
third case we learn the costliness of living in the kingdom. The Lord Jesus
does not conceal the commitment that He expects.
In this story of the young man, there are three things which only Mark
tells us. Clearly these are things which he expects us to perceive and learn
from his narrative. First of all, Mark alone tells us that "Jesus looking
upon him, loved him" (v.21). The relationship between Jesus and the young
man was a relationship of love. Peter evidently noted that and Mark records
it. Secondly, it is Mark alone who tells us that "the disciples were amazed
at his words" (v.24). Once again dear old Peter, not at all unwilling to
let his deficiencies be seen all over the face of the Gospel narrative, confesses
that they were all astonished and could not make head or tail of it. Thirdly,
there is the final little reminder from Mark which is not in the other Gospels,
when he notes that all the blessings and rewards of the kingdom are to be
had "with persecution" (v.30). That is to say that although the rewards are
abundant, the element of cost is continuous. Salvation is free, but it costs
everything you have got.
The amazement of the disciples.
Of these three points which are peculiar to Mark, we take up first the
matter of the astonished disciples. Let me put it to you in this way: the
Lord Jesus is Himself the way into the kingdom; there may be people like
this rich, pious ruler who seem to have everything in the world going for
them, but that does not provide an entry into the kingdom. So the disciples
stand back in amazement and ask, 'Well, if he can't get in, who can?' The
answer is that the Lord Jesus is Himself the sole and sufficient way into
the kingdom, and nothing else is to be taken into account. The Lord told
His disciples that although they could not understand it or see the human
possibility of it, salvation is all of God (v.27).
It is a basic truth that with men it is impossible, but not with God,
for with Him all things are possible. Salvation is all of God and salvation
is all in Jesus. For this the Lord told the young man of the one thing that
he lacked and He did so in the words, "Follow Me". The young man opened
up the matter by addressing Jesus as "Good Teacher ...". The Lord Jesus,
who saw directly into his heart, decided that He must put this man straight
about this idea of goodness, not goodness in the sense of beauty but goodness
in the sense of moral perfection. The Lord indicated to the young man that
he was in confusion concerning goodness, if he failed to understand that it
can only be found in God. Moreover he exposed his confusion by asking what
he should do in order to inherit it, when of course one can do nothing
to inherit, since inheritance comes by the goodwill of someone else. To press
home this point the Lord introduced the subject of the law, only to reveal
that the man who felt that he could truly say that he had kept it all was
completely without assurance. Law-keeping does not bring assurance and as
a matter of fact, law-keeping at the human end is never as complete as the
one concerned imagines. Here, though, was a man who claimed to have a good
conscience but did not know if he had eternal life.
The Lord did not mention the tenth commandment, "Thou shalt not covet".
The tenth [114/115] commandment is the commandment
of the heart. In the balance of the Decalogue, the first and the tenth commandments
internalise all the commands of the law. The Lord therefore raised this matter
of giving away his possessions to challenge the young man as to his heart
attitude in order to expose to him that his law-keeping was not as complete
as he might think. Even so, He did not tell him to go away and do better,
as though he had kept nine of the commands and must now go and keep the
tenth. That was not His purpose in asking the ruler to give away his possessions.
The one thing needed was to follow Christ: "Come and follow me" (v.21).
What Jesus said to that young man was not a pattern for every conversion
but it was peculiar to his personal need. For him it was part and parcel
of his simple coming to Christ that he had to forsake all that he had. That
was said as a special demand on him; the same demand is not put to us but
Jesus never speaks to anyone who comes to Him without speaking also of the
cost. There is the simplicity of kingdom membership, but there is also the
costliness of living within the kingdom.
Christ's love for the young ruler.
The second thing which Mark alone records is the love of Jesus for the
rich man: "Jesus, looking upon him, loved him" (v.21). The verb 'looking'
implies 'looking right into him'. As the Lord Jesus looked through and through
this young man, He was filled with love for him. For me this stresses the
fact that it is love that dictates the costly life. The way of cost is also
the way of love. Just as in this case it was the love of Jesus that offered
to this young man the costliness of kingdom membership, so it is His love
which calls us all to embrace the costliness of living in His kingdom. Under
the old covenant it was because God loved His people that He gave them the
law, and now under the new covenant, it is because He loves us that He opens
up to us this way of cost and self denial and living for Him.
Once again, then, the two facts are presented side by side, not to be
confused but also not to be ignored. The first is the fact and the simplicity
of a personal attachment to the Lord Jesus, kingdom membership being simply
a matter of falling into His arms. To us all He says, "Come after Me, put
your steps in behind My steps". The second is the determined costly way in
which that commitment to Christ is to express itself in daily life.
The cost of discipleship.
Once again Peter got it all wrong. It was he who impulsively broke in
upon what Jesus was saying about the cost by saying: "Lo, we have left all,
and have followed thee". He must have blushed when he instructed Mark to
put that down. He never concealed anything wrong that he ever did or said,
dear man. He was beautifully frank about his own faults. But though he got
it all wrong, it was a direct question and it received a lovely answer. Jesus
said: "Verily I say unto you, There is no man ..." (v.29). See how He generalised.
The words about selling all he had was for that man alone, but now there is
a word for everyone. The cost for everybody is to leave all for His sake and
for the gospel's sake. The clear message of this incident to us all is that
a true simple commitment to Jesus is in fact a commitment of everything we
have; to be His means that our goods and our homes are all at His disposal
and devoted to the gospel.
Happily the rest is also true. The Lord Jesus tells us that the return
far outweighs the cost. Supremely there is "treasure in heaven", but there
are also present rewards even though, as we have already seen, these come
"with persecutions" for "There is no man that hath left ... but he shall
receive a hundredfold now in this time ..." (vv.29-30). Never mind the eternal
returns, there are immediate rich rewards for those who respond to the call
to follow the Lord.
(To be continued)
Reading: John 1:29-51
GOD is a God of repetitions, as we saw in a previous article [Life's
Repetitions, Vol. 13, No. 4]; but He is not a God of uniformity. He has
created millions of human beings, and all of them have two feet, two hands,
a nose between two eyes, and two ears. That is repetition on a huge scale.
Yet each of those [115/116] beings is unique: none
of them is exactly like the others. This, then, is what our God is like;
He is the God of repetition who hates uniformity.
Satan is just the opposite. He insists on uniformity, and he often seems
to have his way. All the big political powers are built on uniformity. Sometimes
this principle seems to enter into the Church, so that people in a particular
church seem just like one another. They are without originality; they have
become copies; they do the same things, speak the same language and use the
same phrases. This is quite boring, and it is certainly not what is meant
by being holy. Such sameness, far from being of God is very, very human
and lacks vitality. True life demands individualities.
John's account of the first calling of the disciples speaks of two men
without giving any names. From 1:40, however, he goes on to give us the
names of four of them. The first is Andrew: "One of them that heard John
speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother". He is identified
in this way, that he was the brother of Simon Peter, and with one exception
this is always the case (Matthew 10:2; Luke 6:14; John 6:8). Almost the only
place where he is not so described is in Mark's Gospel which, of course,
was written under Peter's guidance; there he is just called Andrew (Mark
I feel sorry for him. Nobody would wish only to be known as somebody
else's brother. He was not so important as Peter, we know, but still he
became just as indispensable. He became a real man in his own right, a unique
personality, as the Gospels make quite clear. He first heard about Christ
without the help of Peter. He heard for himself, and then he followed for
himself, without the help of Peter. Indeed, it was all the other way round,
for the Scriptures go on to report that "he findeth first his own brother,
The word 'first' indicates that he found others after Peter. It was he
who found the lad with the five loaves and the two fishes (John 6:9), for
that is the kind of man he was. Humanly speaking he lived under the shadow
of his brother Peter, but really he lived in the light of the Lord, so he
had his own personal testimony which he had not learned from Peter. He heard
for himself John's words, "Behold, the Lamb of God". He heard that without
Peter's help, and then he was able to exclaim: "We have found the Messiah".
It is tremendous to appreciate this that, without Peter's help, he understood
that the embodiment of weakness was also power incarnate; the Lamb is the
Almighty. It made his personality, to know this for himself. How had he learned
it? By revelation of the Spirit through the Word of God. We know that John
the Baptist and his disciples had seen the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus
and rest upon Him: "John bare record saying, I saw the Spirit descending
from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him" (v.32). Andrew, the brother
of Peter, came to the Lord himself, and the Lord gave him the words about
the resting Spirit: "There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse,
and a Branch shall grow out of his roots; and the Spirit of the Lord shall
rest upon him" (Isaiah 11:1-2).
Andrew did not learn this from his brother Peter; he learned it from
God Himself. The Spirit rested, abode, on the Lord Jesus and Andrew, the
brother of Peter, understood this and was able to identify Him as the Christ.
He did not say, 'We have found a man and I think that he may be the Messiah',
or 'We have found one and I should not be at all surprised if he turned out
to be the Messiah'. No, there were no doubts in his mind so that he was able
to say: "We have found the Messiah" and in saying so he became a real man.
He had found the Messiah, and in doing so he had found himself. Like Paul,
he could now say, "By the grace of God I am what I am" -- I am Andrew. But
he did not say, "I have found the Messiah". He was big enough to forget
himself, which he did by asserting that it was "we" who had found
Andrew was now a new man and unique, even though he was still called
the brother of Peter. He was an example of Biblical renewal by which common
men are made unique, real personalities. In our limited understanding we
think of renewal in two ways. One is by repair. When my wife repairs my shirt,
I say that it is like new. But repair is not Biblical renewal. The other
way is by substitution, starting with new material. I buy a shirt and of
course it is a new shirt. But neither is this the Biblical way of renewal,
as though we had put Andrew aside and created another man. No, it is not repair
and it is not substitution; it is the miracle of renewal so that Andrew is
still the same Andrew and yet is an altogether new Andrew, a real man.
This makes man the most interesting being on earth, and shows that the
Creator respects what He has created. The Lord had made Andrew a different
man from all others, and then had given him a God-given personality. From
the outside he had been unique, but now as an inner personality he was unique
too. He had heard the wonderful message that the sin which was the self-centredness
of the world had been taken away by the Lamb of God. Through that message,
Andrew was liberated, delivered from self-centredness and given a new centre.
His personality was no longer centred in his ego but in Christ, and so he
had become the real Andrew, though he remained the brother of Peter.
This was true liberty, and now his testimony was convincing, even to
his big brother Peter. Peter might be expected to doubt his statement, replying
'How can you know? You are only my brother Andrew'. But as he looked
at him, he saw a new Andrew, a man quite natural, not artificial or dramatic,
but a real man whose testimony was most convincing. If you want people to
believe your testimony you must be truthful, and you can only be truthful
when you are yourself, and you can only be yourself when you are in Christ.
If you copy others, don't expect people to believe you.
People will listen when they hear such a man. Peter was, of course, much
bigger than Andrew, for he was never called Peter the brother of Andrew,
yet he was ready to listen to this smaller brother and be brought by him to
Jesus. I wish that this spirit could be found more in our churches. The Lord
does not want us to copy one another, for that leads to the fear of man.
How many clouds would disappear in our assemblies if we had faith enough in
God to allow our neighbours to be just what they are in Christ.
Now let us consider Peter. "When Jesus looked upon him, he said ..."
(v.42). How did He look upon him? How do you think that Abraham looked on
his dear old Sarah when she was ninety? I am afraid that she must have been
rather wrinkled and faded as well as barren. Well, Abraham saw the wrinkles
and faded beauty, and yet he called her "The mother of multitudes". He was
not looking through rose-tinted spectacles but looking at her in the light
of divine promises and of divine power. That was how Jesus looked on Peter.
Of course He saw Peter's barrenness, and that is why He said: "Thou art Simon",
but He saw more than that. He looked upon Peter in the light of His own power
and intentions, and so He was able to say, "Thou shalt be called a rock".
The Lord spoke the word of faith to Peter and in doing so He imparted faith
to Peter. Through the word of faith and the spirit of faith that very rocklike
nature which could never have been found in Peter himself was created by
This is a very important matter for our church life. How do we look at
those who are fellow believers? You have a brother who has come to the Lord.
You look upon him, seeing his barrenness and his faults and are tempted
to say that nothing of value will come from him. If you adopt this attitude,
you will help to produce defeat in him and you will be culpable because
you have treated him without faith. The Lord Jesus is quite different. He
produced faith in those men who followed Him.
How seldom do we find the Lord correcting His disciples! Certainly you
will never find Him expressing despair about them as though they were hopeless.
He might well have complained that He had been trying for some years to teach
them but, as it was obvious that they had made no growth or progress, it
might be as well to give them up altogether. Yet the very night in which they
were going to betray and forsake Him, He looked upon them in faith and said:
"You are they who have continued with me in my temptations, and I appoint
unto you a kingdom" (Luke 22:28-29). This was not because of any virtues in
them but because He dealt with them in the light of His own power. It was
in this same spirit that He called Peter a rock, even when there was no reality
upon which to base His words.
The Lord Jesus did not rely on any strength in Peter, but He had the
grace and the power as well as the wisdom to produce a Peter out of a Simon.
Now He does not expect us to be blind about one another's faults, treating
everything with a blue-eyed optimism which pretends that all is well when
it is not. No, it demands a life and walk with God which exercises faith
in Him and so helps to reproduce that faith in others. You can never help
a brother or sister by your doubts, by mere corrections nor even by setting
before them a higher standard; what you need to do is encourage their faith.
This is the basis of real fellowship, as the apostles showed. Andrew,
the brother of Peter, had something to give even to Peter, and Peter, though
weak in himself, was made strong by Christ to have something to give to Andrew.
Andrew had no inferiority complex, even though he was always known in the
secondary character as Peter's brother, and Peter had no sense of superiority
even with his young brother, Andrew. They were just themselves, not trying
to be like each other, and so they were able to enjoy free fellowship in
Such a life requires real faith in God, for otherwise one will impose
himself on the other and try to produce fellowship on the basis of fear,
whereas we can only have that fellowship in the freedom of faith and love.
This does not mean that we have no standards, as if nothing mattered very
much. No, far from it, but it does mean that we must learn to look on one
another with faith, speak to one another in faith and encourage faith even
though we may need to give some word of correction.
The list of those who follow the Lamb is a very long one and on it there
is a place for us. Like Andrew, we may be connected with some other name,
but we must learn to follow for ourselves. Andrew must not try to be like
Peter, and Peter must not attempt to make him do so, for we must at all costs
avoid artificiality or imitation. God, our Creator and Redeemer, sets great
store on true individuality.
The third man brought to our notice is Philip. He may seem to have been
the least important of these first three. We are never told that he had a
brother; he is not called the brother of anyone. Nor is he called the son
of anyone, for nothing is said of his family. The only thing that we know
about him is that he came from the same city as Andrew and Peter. He had
a wonderful beginning but in spite of this he seems to have been a man of
slow growth. At the end of their training period with the Lord, Philip said
to Him: "Show us the Father" and on this occasion the Lord Jesus felt it
necessary to voice a mild rebuke, a thing which He seldom did to His disciples.
"So long time I have been with you, Philip," He said, "and you do not yet
know me. He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9).
Philip may have been slow but he was important. He was nobody much but
the Lord would not go back to Galilee without him, so we read these wonderful
words: "The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee and findeth Philip"
(v.43). We are impressed that the Lord could not do without this man even
though he seemed unimportant. This is typical of our Lord. Whom does He
choose? Not the big ones, the important ones, the powerful ones but the
weak, the foolish, the despised, the things which 'are not'. Philip belonged
to this group.
I like to think of my Saviour preparing His journey back to Galilee and
finding everything else in order, but no Philip. So He found Philip. He looked
for him until He did find him. The same is true of you and me. He will not
go any farther on His way without us, for He is the Good Shepherd and we
are his sheep. We know that Peter was brought to the Lord by Andrew but we
are not told that anyone brought Philip. May we not presume that since Andrew
and Peter came from the same city that it was they who told Jesus about
Philip? There are times when we ought to bring people to the Lord, and there
are other times when we ought to tell the Lord about people and leave it
to Him. In any case the Lord found Philip and said to him the two words which
until now we have not heard from His mouth: "Follow me". Later the Lord said
that the Father would honour those who followed Christ, so we may say that
Philip, the nobody, received an invitation to be honoured by the Father.
Philip was from Bethsaida, where they did not honour Christ. He did wonderful
miracles there but still they did not honour Him, and He cried, "Woe unto
you, Bethsaida ...". Since Philip, Andrew and Peter came from that place,
this must have meant that they lost all their honour in their home town by
following the Lord. This is a most important feature of the character of
a man, if he deliberately accepts the dishonour of the world to get the honour
of the Father. It is also a most important thing in church life. The Lord
asked, "How can you believe me, if you seek honour one from another?" (John
"Follow Me!" To do this is to receive the honour of the Father. People
will not honour you. Your fellow Christians may sometimes misunderstand
you, but you do not stand before men [118/119] but
before God. The Lord Jesus always sought the honour of the Father, and this
gave Him tremendous power. He also enjoyed marvellous liberty for He did
not have to look to the left or to the right to see what others thought
of Him, but simply made sure to be governed by the will of the Father. Little,
unimportant Philip was called to follow; he responded to the call and, in
spite of all his weaknesses, he was delivered, made an apostle and gained
the honour of the Father. Some day you will find his name in the New Jerusalem
as one of the most important names there, and it was all because that morning,
before He left for Galilee, the Lord Jesus found him and called him.
This was the beginning of the Church. The Lord had now called three men,
Andrew the brother of Peter, Peter the son of Jonas and insignificant little
Philip. In a sense they were quite adequate according to the Lord's way of
counting, for He said that where two or three are gathered together in His
name, He is there in the midst. The Lord was with them, and where the Lord
is, there is fellowship, there is power, there is prayer and there is the
Church. What a gift to Bethsaida, but Bethsaida ignored it. Not that they
realised that they represented the local church in Bethsaida, but that is
not important. The more you are occupied with the Lord the more the Church
is there. The more you are occupied with the Church, the less the Lord may
be there and of course, if the Lord is not there, there is no functioning
Church in reality. The Church is never self-centred; it is centred on the
Andrew was Christ-centred, and so was Peter, and so was Philip. They
followed the Lord, and at that time they did not know much more than just
to follow Him, but after all what is there more to know? If you know how
to follow Him and do so, then you are in the way of life, spontaneous life
-- life in the power of first love, life in pure light. It could have been
a wonderful blessing for Bethsaida, to have this group of three men following
Christ in their midst, but Bethsaida would not accept it, refusing to recognise
them or to honour their Lord.
If we ask what Philip did, the answer is that he did just the same as
his Master had done. We read what Christ did: "He findeth Philip" (v.43)
and then we read what Philip did: "he findeth Nathanael" (v.45). Then what
did Philip say? He said exactly what his Master had said: "Come and see".
So Philip did and said what Jesus had done and said, which is not very surprising
but very natural to a man who was following his Lord. His words were the words
of Jesus, and yet they were Philip's words. Jesus worked through Philip, Jesus
spoke through Philip, and yet it was Philip who acted and Philip who spoke.
Philip was himself, but himself as linked with Christ. One saw Jesus in Philip,
for he was now a man made free to do what had not previously been possible.
He is an example of true ministry.
I could, of course, paint a very different picture. I could imagine Peter
going to Andrew and the two of them going to Philip, and then all three sitting
down to plan the service they could do for the Lord. They might have had
bright ideas as to the different tasks each would undertake and then have
taken their suggestions to the Lord only to have them rejected. That is what
we sometimes do. Rather than waste time and energy making plans which seem
good to us and yet are bound to be set aside by the Lord, is it not better
to follow Him and discover what His plans are? This is true ministry. Just
look at what happened with Philip. He followed, and then he found Nathanael,
and there seemed no end to the fruitful results which followed. The Father
honoured Philip, his words and his work in a way which might well have astounded
As he gave his testimony to Nathanael, he did so as a member of a body
so that, although his ministry was personal, it was not detached. So he
did not say, "I have found" but he said, "We have found".
We may wonder if this was correct since the Gospel tells us that it was
Jesus who found Philip. The truth is, of course, that although Jesus took
the initiative in seeking, Philip himself was also seeking, and so he was
able to affirm that now he had found. We notice that he said, "We have found
Him ...". He did not try to say what he had found or how it had affected
him, but gave a true testimony to Christ.
I am a lawyer by profession and can assure you that if two witnesses
were brought before a judge and asked to testify and one got up and said,
'I am so happy' and the other said, 'I have been filled with joy', the judge
would interrupt and tell them that their feelings were of no
[119/120] interest to the court. He would tell them that they had
been called as witnesses, and as such were not to speak of themselves but
of what they had seen. If, in spite of this, one of the witnesses persisted
in telling the judge that he was so thrilled with joy, he would probably be
fined for wasting the court's time. Philip did not speak of having found peace
or being happy, he said nothing about his own feelings, but focused attention
on the Lord. Why draw attention to yourself when you know Him?
Philip was able to quote the great authority of the Word of God. He did
not have to set himself up as an authority, for he was able to say: "We have
found him of whom Moses and the prophets have written" (v.45). The remarkable
thing was that he asserted that the one of whom Moses and the prophets had
written was Jesus of Nazareth. This shows how completely revolutionised his
life had become. The people of Bethsaida murmured, indeed people of that
whole area murmured: "Is not this Joseph's son?" (Luke 4:22). They were offended
in Him and asked themselves: "Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his
mother called Mary? his brethren ... and his sisters, are they not all with
us? Whence then hath this man all these things?" (Matthew 13:55-57). Philip
did not question and he answered Nathanael's question with the divine invitation:
"Come and see".
The encounter with Nathanael is linked up with the marriage in Cana of
Galilee by the words, "and the third day" (2:1). Under the Spirit's inspiration,
John said nothing there about Nathanae1's home town but at the end of his
Gospel, he reveals that it was this same Cana of Galilee (21:2). This gives
great point to Philip's testimony and its outcome, for it seems that the
Lord Jesus was planning to give His first revelation of His glory in that
town, so probably required the human link represented by Nathanael.
All that Philip did was to follow the Lamb, but his following opened
the way for the initial display of Christ's glory. What an honour to help
provide the link for the marriage feast and the turning of the water into
wine! Little Philip shows us that ministry is a marvellous mystery of co-operation
with the Lord. He could have made plans for his service and missed that link
with Nathanael. Happily he was content just to follow the Lamb and bear
his testimony to Him. In a sense we are all little men, but we are important
to the Lord provided we follow the Lamb joyfully and do not have big thoughts
about ourselves. Our following may lead to a Nathanael, a Cana of Galilee
and a new revelation of the glory of the Lord Jesus. Every individual has
his or her own name and his or her individual importance to the Lord who
has called us. [120/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
OLD TESTAMENT PARENTHESES (12)
"(For He was yet in Egypt, whither he had fled from the presence of
and Jeroboam dwelt in Egypt, and they sent and called him;)" 1 Kings
THE time when the world is most to be feared is when it is friendly to
the Church. It is a sad comment on King Solomon, who began his reign so
inspiringly, that he should become the pioneer of the inveterate tendency
of the kingdom of Israel to seek aid and comfort from Egypt, the former
land of their captivity.
SOLOMON had many wives, but the most favoured of them was undoubtedly
Pharaoh's daughter, and it seems that this was not so much due to affection
as to political expediency. The matter is introduced to us by the statement
that "Solomon made affinity with Pharaoh king of Egypt, and took Pharaoh's
daughter ..." (1 Kings 3:1).
WHAT is more, Solomon deliberately disobeyed God's command that he must
not go down into Egypt to buy horses (Deuteronomy 17:16). He amassed a large
army of horses and chariots (2 Chronicles 1:14) and although they may not
all have come from Egypt, that is the only country of origin which is actually
specified (2 Chronicles 9:28). It is easy to read those glowing accounts
of Solomon's prosperity without observing this part played by Egypt. We must
be careful not to imagine that God had really not meant what He said when
He prohibited recourse to Egypt in this way. So far as obedience and disobedience
are concerned, God has no favourites.
IT must have seemed to Solomon, as it sometimes does to us, that it is
quite a good thing for God's kingdom to imitate the world and even to make
use of its friendship, but this parenthesis about Jeroboam helps to correct
such a false assumption, for it was Egypt which gave shelter and succour
to this man who was destined to split Israel asunder.
IN the sovereignty of God, Jeroboam was the human instrument for alienating
the ten tribes from Judah. He served God's purposes but he soon became notorious
as the man who caused Israel to sin. His name and his activities are constantly
referred to in connection with God's anger against the Northern kingdom and
His judgment upon it.
AND where did he come from? Where was it that Jeroboam was preserved
safe until he could come and raise rebellion against Solomon's son? From
the very land with which Solomon had cultivated friendly relations -- Egypt.
We later read how hordes of those chariots came up from Egypt to harrass
and plunder the remaining kingdom of Judah (2 Chronicles 12:3).
WHAT had become of Solomon's alliance with Pharaoh, and his brisk trade
with the Egyptians? Nothing but disaster. And what can happen when God's
people forget that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Surely this
parenthesis makes the lesson plain for us all to read.
GIVING DILIGENCE TO KEEP THE UNITY
OF THE SPIRIT IN THE BOND OF PEACE.