|Vol. 15, No. 1, Jan. - Feb. 1986
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
THE CHURCH'S DESTINY
"Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the wife of the Lamb
" Revelation 21:9
THE book of the Revelation has been the subject of innumerable expositions
and explanations. For my present purposes I simply point out that it beings
with many local churches, as scrutinised by their Lord, with varying verdicts
as to their conditions and advice for their help, but the book ends with
the presentation of one radiant Church, wholly satisfying to her glorious
Head. It has a message for us all.
I ask myself what the elderly exile John felt after he had written the
final 'Amen' to his astonishing document. I imagine that he was quite overwhelmed
by it all. The very language testifies to that. Later, and in a more composed
state of mind, he must have pondered the whole colourful experience and been
left with some outstanding impressions of his visions. What was it all about?
Unquestionably the two supreme -- and highly relevant -- subjects are
the Lamb and the Lamb's Bride. The 'revelation' committed to John gave him
a drawing aside of heaven's curtain to disclose to him his beloved Saviour
who is here described so many times as The Lamb. Whatever mysteries in this
book may be obscure, one Figure is gloriously, and sometimes awesomely, made
clear beyond any question. The Lamb, unspotted in His character, beautiful
in His humility and wholly selfless in His loving sacrifice, is the centre
not only of this book but of the whole universe. Every enlightened believer's
heart must be captivated by this presentation of the centrality and supremacy
of this One who is now designated 'The Lamb'. He is here seen as the reigning
Redeemer, the Master of world events, the Overcomer of all evils and the
rejoicing Bridegroom. I want to concentrate on this last feature of His final
achievement of obtaining His Bride. As I understand it, to be His Bride represents
the Church's glorious destiny.
The book begins with those seven churches of Asia which, as representatives
of all local assemblies, were marked by virtues, disfigured by blemishes
and rebuked for failures, and yet were the objects of the Lord's concern and
love. I want to ignore the detailed lessons of their various experiences and
simply record that they remind us, vividly and sometimes painfully, of the
present conditions which obtain among the churches today. At this point we
might well ask, How can those faulty churches be blended into the one faultless
Bride? How can the ideal ever become a reality?
The first thing to note is that all earthly affairs are in the hands
of the Lamb who is described as the only one in the heaven, or on the earth,
or under the earth who is qualified to open the divine document of events
(5:5). What is happening or going to happen is entirely under His control.
John saw Him take the scroll and begin to break its seals and promptly embarked
upon a bewildering sequence of events, in heaven and on earth, in which unspeakable
wickedness and oppression attacked, and sometimes seemed to overcome, the
people cleansed by the blood of the Lamb and with their names in His book
of life. Relief comes by divine intervention until at last -- we may say,
at long last -- we are permitted to view the end product of all the Lamb's
activities: "I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven
from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband" (21:2). So the
purpose always in view and wonderfully realised at the end is the love-union
of Christ and His Church.
This is what it is all about. Those various figures and numbers which
either fascinate or distract us are, in a sense, only incidental. The real
goal of all the Lamb's activities and the meaning of the long drawn-out period
between [1/2] the enthronement of the crucified and
risen Lord and the ultimate glory, is associated with the "marriage supper
of the Lamb". This gospel period is referred to as a delay: "there shall be
delay no longer; but in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound
his trumpet, then is finished the mystery of God, according to the good tidings
which he declared to his servants the prophets" (10:6-7). "There will be no
more delay!" (NIV). Surely this delay refers to the whole gospel period; its
finishing will usher in the Day of the Lord's appearing and the marriage supper
of the Lamb.
If we forget all else that is in this book, let us try to focus on this
issue, for it is of personal concern to every believer. This is the glorious
eternal destiny set before the struggling churches. It is striking that,
with Spirit-given insight, John the Baptist referred to this when, having
announced Jesus as The Lamb of God (John 1:36) he went on to describe Him
as the Bridegroom of the Church (John 3:29).
If we contemplate the believers in those seven Asian churches we might
well despair of God's purpose for them ever being realised. But what shall
we say of ourselves? How can we ever fit into John's vision of what God
plans for us? In both cases we have to fall back on Him "who is able to
do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think ..." (Ephesians
3:20). In this connection what was the apostle thinking of? Surely it was
the great mystery of the fruit of Christ's sacrifice being "that he might
present the church to himself ..." as a spotless bride (5:27). Concerning
this great task, Paul was able to affirm, 'He is able'. In this matter we
see one more example of the fact that it is the rest of the New Testament
which provides doctrine, while this book of the Revelation confirms those
doctrines by graphic illustrations. It is, however, not a merely visionary
book but one which calls for practical obedience, so we must ask ourselves
what are the implications to us of John's visions. I can only suggest four.
1. The Church's Unity of Love
Make no mistake about it, there is only one bride. The end of the story
shows a people whose differences of locality, of culture or of understanding
are blended together in one entity. Whatever the Bible has to say of wedding
guests or of bridesmaids at this heavenly feast, there can only be one bride.
In the Spirit we are not only united to Christ but also to one another.
There is, of course, another king of 'unity' and that is to be found
in the corrupt 'harlot' whose downfall seems to coincide with the manifestation
of the pure bride, but that is a unity of outward form, of intolerant oppression
and of basic antagonism to the Lamb. The Bride's unity is something quite
different. It is not built up on the earth but descends from heaven; its
boast is not: "I sit as queen ..." (18:7) but rather that Christ is
King. The harlot is described as the great city of Babylon. The Bride is also
depicted as a city, the heavenly Jerusalem. The central feature of this city
is its basic and intrinsic unity -- it is even spoken of as having one street
with one river running through it.
That the Bride is one is so obvious that it needs no explanation, but
it constitutes a direct challenge to us all. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians,
he expressed a godly jealousy lest those Christians who were engaged to be
Christ's Bride should be led astray from sincere and pure devotion to Him
by reason of a divisive spirit in their fellowship (2 Corinthians 11:2).
What, oh what, would he have to say to the churches today?
It is easy to pontificate about local church unity and about the larger
issue of unity among Christians, but it is not always easy to know how to
express it in practical ways. In his urgent appeal for unity on the basis
of the cross, Paul made some most emphatic statements about the impossibility
of unity outside of Christ (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). These are strong words
and we remember that they were written by the same man who had written so
sublimely about love in the thirteenth chapter of his first letter to this
same church. How, then, can we rightly express the bridal spirit in this
realm of Christian unity?
Clearly the crux of it is unqualified submission to the Lord Jesus Christ
as Saviour and Lord. Within this sphere there can be many permissible differences.
Nowadays we hear often of "the right hand of fellowship" but seldom take
the trouble to trace its Scriptural use. The phrase occurs in Galatians 2:9
and is used to describe an occasion on which two groups agreed to differ because
each perceived the evidence of the grace of God [2/3]
in the other. This, to me, defines the spirit in which we should always
treat one another in the larger realm of the work of the gospel; metaphorically,
if not actually, we should lovingly extend to the others the right hand of
I would like to think that when the Ephesian and the Laodicean Christians
received John's Revelation, they immediately set to work to pray for their
suffering brothers and sisters in Smyrna, and that the saints in Smyrna found
time, even in their severe trials, to pray lovingly for their friends who
in Pergamum had to live where Satan's throne was. I wonder! Perhaps the
latter is more likely than the former. That is how it should be, though.
I thank the Lord sincerely that I have lived to see the day when denominational
and non-denominational barriers are being ignored or transcended. There has
been a big change in my lifetime; may it continue more and more as we see
the Day approaching!
So much for the larger issue. In some ways the matter of unity in a local
assembly can be more complex. Perhaps the best comment on this issue comes
from John himself who was instructed about the redeemed community which sang
the new song and enjoyed the reality of Mount Zion that "these are they
which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth" (Revelation 14:4). How much
more glorifying to Christ would His churches here on earth be if their members
determined to be lamblike rather than lionlike. Only Christ Himself can be
2. The Church's Beauty of Holiness
There is something movingly simple in what is said about the Bride's
wedding dress, even more so when it is contrasted with the ostentatious
luxury of the harlot: "The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and
was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls ..." (17:4). The Bride,
however, is described with simple dignity: "It was given unto her that she
should array herself in fine linen, bright and pure" (19:8).
We are naturally struck by the seeming paradox of her having made herself
ready and yet having received this lovely bridal garment as a gift. This
may be explained by the following note that "fine linen is the righteousnesses
of the saints." Whether or not the plural of righteousness can rightly be
rendered as 'righteous acts', I am not qualified to say, but I am certain
that there can be no place on that Day for self-righteousness. May I suggest
that to our familiar doctrine of imputed righteousness and the further truth
of imparted righteousness we can perhaps add the further aspect of appropriated
righteousness? For me, a righteous act occurs when I receive from God's grace
a new impartation of His Spirit to live out the righteousness of Christ.
It becomes mine, and yet it can truly be said that I have it as a free gift.
Scripture says that the Bride both made herself ready (19:7) and was
'made ready' (21:2). God's grace plays its part by the gift. We too must
play our part by continually putting on the Lord Jesus Christ and making
no provision for the flesh (Romans 13:14). The imminence of the Second Advent
of Christ is everywhere used as a call and incentive to holy living. This,
then is one more case of New Testament doctrines being illustrated by this
God's holiness is not only pure; it is beautiful and attractive. We find
John showing us the Bride, "coming down out of heaven from God, having the
glory of God; her brilliance was like unto a stone most precious, clear as
crystal" (21:10-11). She not only wears the whiteness of the Lord's spotless
purity but also the warm and sparkling colours of His goodness. There are
Scriptures which speak of this as an inward quality. The Old Testament says:
"The king's daughter is all glorious within; her clothing is inwrought with
gold. She shall be led unto the king in broidered work" (Psalm 45:13-14).
Her glory is not just outward but inward. The original does not carry any
word about a palace. Knox gives a striking rendering of this verse: "All
her splendour is the splendour of a princess through and through." In the
New Testament Peter writes to wives about having in their inner self the adornment
of "the unfading beauty of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight
of God of great price" (1 Peter 3:4). This constitutes a tremendous challenge
to all of us who reckon to have a part in the marriage feast of the Lamb.
The Lord Jesus Himself urges us to make ourselves ready for that great Day.
3. The Church's Freshness of Life
Now if you expect a millennial period (as I certainly do) you will be
faced with the problem [3/4] of how God's people could
be described in bridal terms before it (19:7) and then again be called the
Bride when that period had ended. We might comment that after so long a
time she might well be described as a much-loved and established wife, she
could hardly be spoken of as a bride. This is where the earthly analogy breaks
down. In the spiritual realm there can be no time element to lessen the
glorious rapture of the marriage. Like the banquet to the prodigal son, this
feast has a beginning but no termination. Perhaps I may be allowed to point
out that John himself had to report two separate experiences through which
he passed. Filled with delirious rejoicing he foolishly tried to worship
an angel both before and after his report about the thousand years (19:10
& 22:8). In both cases his action was consequent upon the revelation
of the Lamb's Bride.
It is one of the wonders of union with the heavenly Bridegroom that it
is eternally fresh. The symbols of the city reinforce this truth for the
picture is given of its main street being characterised by a great sparkling
river proceeding from the throne (22:1-2). Earlier the comment had been made
that there would be no more sea (21:1). It seems to me that the difference
between sea and river is not only that the former is salt and the latter
fresh in its sweetness but that the river consists of constantly renewed
water whereas the sea is composed of the same water, flowing backwards and
forwards with the changing tides and even bearing back articles which it
had first carried out. Stand in a river and the water which passes over your
feet has never been there before and will never return again. The flow is
constant but the actual water is always coming to you for the first time;
it is fresh and original.
The simple moral of this is that Christians need -- and can have- - constant
renewal. Think of Ephesus, so active and yet with its love gone stale (2:4);
think of Sardis, with a name to live, but only a dead name (3:1); and, worst
of all, think of the lukewarm Laodiceans (3:15). What deep needs those epistles
reveal, and all needs of renewal.
But the Word of God is living and powerful. Even if the Christians in
Ephesus were not immediately affected by the Spirit's individual message
to them can we not hope that by the time they reached this great climax of
the Revelation, their hearts had aroused to a revival of love for Christ.
Years before Paul had written to them of the length and breadth, the height
and depth of Christ's surpassing love (Ephesians 3:18) and had set before
them the promise of being presented to Him without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians
5:27) but now perhaps the very momentum of their activities and their zeal
for correct doctrine had led them to think more of their church than of their
Lord. They needed to be delivered from stale orthodoxy and filled with fresh
love to Christ. The Lord on the throne who promised to make all things new
(21:5) could do this for them.
What shall we say of the church in Sardis which was living on a dead
reputation (3:1)? Was there really any danger of having their names blotted
out of the book of life? Could it be possible that the Lord Jesus would
not wish to confess their names before His Father and before His angels?
We would hope not. It might be, though, that John's visions shook them as
mere words could not do and brought victorious renewal to those who seemed
ready to die. And need we exclude Laodicea? Their words had been perilously
near to the boasts of the corrupt Babylon which said, "I sit a queen, and
am no widow and shall in no wise see mourning" (18:7) for they boasted,
"I am rich ... and in need of nothing" (3:17). We would like to think that
this whole church might have been revived from its greed and self-satisfaction,
but at least we may believe that some of its members opened their hearts
to the cleansing and renewal offered by their patient and gracious Lord.
No doubt things of this kind could be said about most of the churches:
they needed the miracle of spiritual renewal. We too need constantly to
be renewed if we are to measure up to our destiny as the Bride. In that
day the Lord who sits on the throne will declare: "Behold, I make all things
new" (21:5) but since He is already on the throne He is able right now to
renew us in the spirit of our mind (Ephesians 4:23). This will never happen
automatically; we have got to work at it.
4. The Church's Privilege of Service
The closing vision stresses that what awaits us in eternity is that which
our natures rightly [4/5] crave for, and that is to
be useful and to be needed. The idea of burning ourselves out now in exhausting
service with the prospect of enjoying later an eternal vacation in heaven
is quite misguided; service is not only our privilege now but also our prospect
Once again we may refer to the Corinthians for it was to them that Paul
announced that the vocation of the saints is to judge the world and to judge
angels (1 Corinthians 6:2-3). This is a most astonishing idea in its Corinthians
context, for their church hardly seemed to provide promising material for
such a high vocation. Nevertheless the truth that the redeemed are destined
to reign with Christ is repeatedly referred to in the Revelation.
The Lord Jesus told His disciples that they were the light of the world.
While that is true, it is equally true that the world is largely unable or
unwilling to appreciate that light, even when it shines. The day will come,
however, when the Lamb-illuminated Church will provide help and guidance
to the nations (21:24). In this aspect of things we see the Bride as the Queen-Consort
of the Lamb, sharing His rule of loving service. In the divine concept, to
rule is to serve.
It is quite impossible for us dwellers on earth and in time to visualise
how eternal ages of untiring service provide for the fulfilment of Christ's
destiny and the fulfilment of our own. Whom will we rule? Whom will we serve?
There is much that we do not understand in this connection but that does
not lessen the thrust of this final vision which speaks of "the healing of
the nations" (22:2) and the ministration of blessing to them (21:24). The
Bride's destiny is intimately linked with that of her divine Bridegroom; the
Church will always be at His side, not just for personal enjoyment but for
This should not lessen our devotion to the service of the gospel now
-- far from it. Service in God's eyes arises not from some outward obligation
but from an inward attitude of heart which is in fact the Spirit of the Master
(John 13:15). Not that we should wait for eternity in the hope of a place
of honour there, but rather that because of eternal prospects we should
be the more devoted to the task of serving others and seeking to win men
for Christ. If service is to be our future vocation, then we must stick
at it now. It may prove that our present activities form a kind of apprenticeship.
When we think compassionately of needy men we must always remember that
when we least expect it, the cry may ring out, "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh."
Whatever else Revelation 11 may mean, it does give us some indications
of the life of witnessing which characterises those who in due course are
raised up and hear the great voice saying unto them, Come up hither" (v.12).
What is the exact interpretation of the two witnesses described in this
chapter? Who were they, who are they, or who will they be? The churches
in Asia might be forgiven if they found it difficult to identify them, and
we do not seem to be any better off than they in this respect. Like them,
however, we are surely meant to find enlightenment and encouragement for
our own witness for Christ.
The first point to note is that there are Christ's minimum of two. The
Church's testimony in the world involves individuals but should never be
individualistic. We need one another. The next is that although their testimony
is on earth, their origin and source of supply is in heaven: they are "the
two olive trees and the two lampstands, standing before the Lord of the earth."
Every believer needs to be in intimate relationship with the Lord and to
know the constant supply of the Spirit, but especially if men are to stand
true to God in a world which is spiritually Sodom and Egypt and where their
Lord was crucified.
Is this Jerusalem in apostasy? Or is it rather a reminder to all witnesses
that although the Church may have its moments of relative tolerance or even
popularity, the world in which it witnesses is essentially deeply hostile
to the Lord of whom it testifies. Revelation 11 may sound too dramatic for
the relatively peaceful life which many of us live, but there are those in
some lands who will readily identify with some of the more painful aspects
of living for Christ here described. For them -- and for us all -- there
is the comfort of knowing that that great Testimony, the Ark of the Covenant,
though hidden in heaven, is the unfailing assurance of God's faithfulness
to His [5/6] people here in the battle on earth (v.19).
Though hated and attacked we will only be overtaken by death when our task
here is completed (v.7) and in God's good time His witnesses will be vindicated
in a striking way. The manner of their going up into heaven in a cloud gives
at least a hint of that great conclusion to this Dispensation which is described
in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 which we call the Rapture.
5. The Church's Rapture
I like J. B. Phillips' use of the word denouement (Titus 2:13)
for what our New Testament calls Christ's Appearing; it somehow emphasises
the dramatic glory of the Church's great hope. There are many ominous signs
of this coming event in the world around us, but we must remember that concerning
these omens Jesus declared: "but the end is not yet" (Matthew 24:6). The
only certain time factor in this matter which I know of is that which He himself
indicated when He told us all: "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached
in the whole world for a testimony unto all the I nations; AND THEN SHALL
THE END COME" (Matthew 24:14). That was the incentive of my contemporaries
in our Missionary Training Colony days soon after the end of the First War,
days when all Evangelical Christians were agog at the happenings in Palestine
and the prospects provided by prophetical students. For our part we had little
time or inclination to get involved in the suggested prophetic timetables.
Like the Thessalonians we found in the Second Coming an inspiration to gospel
witness and an incentive to holy living. On the whole I think that we were
right, though I imagine that most of us would have been surprised and incredulous
at the idea of another sixty years elapsing and no Second Advent.
Well, the Thessalonians had as their one problem the fate of their believing
friends who had died -- or 'fallen asleep' -- and seemingly missed the great
Hope which had buoyed them up in their new life of having turned from idols
to serve the living God and to wait for His Son from heaven. For them Paul
had a special message from the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:15) and it was to
the effect that far from having missed anything, their departed believing
brothers and sisters would actually have priority in the great event of the
Rapture. Not that the priority would amount to anything, for the whole operation
would take place "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" once the trump
of God had sounded. For my part I equate this trump with the seventh trumpet
of Revelation 10:7: "in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he
is about to sound, then is finished the mystery of God, according to the good
tidings which he declared to his servants, the prophets." We look for an
end which is not just a termination but a fulfilment, and this accords with
Christ's words about the worldwide testimony of the gospel. The moment when
it will be deemed that the Church's witness to the nations is completed is
known only to the Father and will never be known to us until the shout of
the archangel and the trump of God.
Personally I feel some sympathy with those Thessalonian Christians, for
almost all of my contemporaries in the gospel are now asleep in Jesus, but
like them I am greatly comforted to know that the HOPE which we shared is
still as valid as ever. I am waiting here and they are waiting in that happy
timeless realm where they enjoy the immediate presence of Christ. They are
going to have new bodies and, if we are still alive, we will both need and
receive entirely new bodies also. Is the Lord coming for His saints or coming
with them? Both! Once God begins to act, everything can happen at once.
This, then, is the Church's destiny. I have no means of knowing how many
of the expectations about Israel and the nations after that are valid and
how many may be mistaken. One thing I do know, and it is most important to
me, and that is that once together we meet the Lord in the air, we will never
be parted from Him again: "and so shall we ever be with the Lord". We conclude
with the last prayer in the Bible: "Amen; come, Lord Jesus."
THE SPIRIT IN ROMANS 8
1. THE SPIRIT OF LIFE [(Verses 1-11)] (Continued)
We have spoken of the great division of being in the flesh or being in
the Spirit and will consider more of this basic division in our next study
concerning sonship. We should say that so far as Romans 8 is concerned fleshly
Christians, carnal Christians are a contradiction in terms. I would like
to point out that in this chapter the apostle does not use the term in the
way in which he uses it in 1 Corinthians where he is discussing a real possibility,
namely, that Christian people who are born again can be fleshly. Here he
uses the word in a different sense, seeking to bring before us the clear
division between those in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells and those in whom
He does not dwell. What he has done for us is to put us into a different
category, and of us the apostle writes: 'you are not in the flesh, and you
do not walk according to the flesh.'
Every unbeliever has the mind of the flesh and, although he may sometimes
do good and nice things and may sometimes appear to obey the law of God,
he obeys not because he really wants to, but because in that particular point
his mind happens to coincide with the will of God. The whole set of his mind,
however, and the direction of his life are against God, in spite of the
good things he sometimes does. Whereas every believer has the mind of the
Spirit; that is the set of his mind and the direction of his life, in spite
of the sins he at times commits. In spite of the fleshly things he sometimes
does, he is not in the flesh but in the Spirit.
Is this not a tremendous assurance and a hope? If you know that the Spirit
of Christ is in you then do not let what is said here worry you. It is not
meant to make you waver and wonder as to whether you are sometimes on your
way to hell and sometimes on your way to heaven, but simply asks if the Spirit
is truly in you. What is the set of your heart and mind? What do you really
want? Is the Spirit in you? If so, then you are infallibly on the road to
heaven and you always will be.
We are considering distinctiveness here, and that is a lesson we must
learn. We have to say, 'Yes Lord, I did sin yesterday and today too, and
I am not nearly so distinctive as I ought to be, not nearly as different
from unbelievers as I should be, and pray for the Spirit's help.' That is
the aim of distinctiveness, but underneath it Paul urges us not to forget
that the fact of the matter is that we are already distinctive, with the
Spirit in our hearts creating a desire to obey the law of God and leading
us on towards heaven. The law of the Spirit of life has set us free
from the law of sin and of death.
4. The Life of Eternity
"And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the
spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised
up Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you, he that raised up Christ Jesus from
the dead shall give life also to your mortal bodies through his Spirit that
dwelleth in you." (verses 10 & 11).
We see how delightfully Paul proceeds with his argument, linking it all
together in one piece. "And if ..." He is saying, 'Let me tell you the next
stage, which is that the Spirit will also give life to your mortal body'.
This new life is the life of eternity. He is not just talking about the length
it will last, not just saying that after death it will go on forever, but
affirming the quality of this life -- it is the divine life of eternity.
There are two 'ifs' -- "if Christ is in you" and "if the Spirit ... is in
you" We take them in turn:
i. If Christ is in you, it is true that the body is dead because of sin,
but it is equally true that your spirit is life because of righteousness.
If Christ is in you, then the Spirit of God who is in you gives you life
in your spirit. If you ask, 'Why is that?', the answer comes that it is because
of righteousness. Righteousness means the way things ought to be. One of
these days God will see to it that everything is the way it ought to be, but
meanwhile that is what we should be working for now. Righteousness is the
way everything will be when we get to heaven; it is the permanent characteristic
of the life of heaven. The Spirit in you is the Spirit of righteousness and
will therefore endure for ever. It is indestructible. By the Spirit within,
you have that one cardinal quality which is essential for heaven, righteousness.
[7/8] In a sense nothing else matters. It is as if
the Lord stands at the gate of heaven and asks, 'Why should I let you in?'
And of course there are all sorts of ways of expressing the theological answer
to this question, such as 'Because I am converted', 'because I have been
born again', etc., but the basic answer is a simple one. The fundamental question
God will ask is 'Do you fit in here?' The life of heaven is righteous, and
if we can say, 'I am righteous', then we fit there -- we belong, we have the
right characteristics. If Christ is in us, then the Spirit in us is the Spirit
of eternal life because He is the Spirit of righteousness.
Although it is true that the body that we have is a mortal body, affected
by man's sin, the spirit is life because of Christ's salvation. The body
is dead; it will continue to be affected by death and God is not going to
reverse that process but rather let the infection run its course. But God
is to start anew with a new body. He gives us the Spirit of life which is
eternal, but our bodies have too much wrong with them for Him to change them
at the moment. The body is dead, it is mortal; it has been going to die ever
since it was born, being from that moment on the way to the grave. If Christ
is in us, however, death will be overcome by His new life.
[ii.] 'Now before I close the paragraph' says Paul, 'let me tell you
one more thing. I have just said that if Christ is in you the spirit is
life but there is one more thing to say, and that is that He who raised Christ
Jesus from the dead will also one day bring you life for your mortal body.'
Isn't this amazing! We are to know the reality of literal resurrection.
Since I minister in Durham, people tend to ask me questions about the
Bishop there. It was a great thrill to have had a personal opportunity to
witness recently in a T.V. programme which concerned the Bishop of Durham,
for I had the great privilege of setting the record straight over his strange
ideas. The programme coincided with a baptism which in any case we had already
arranged when I had the joy of baptising three young men of our congregation
in the River Wear. Now what better opportunity to speak of the hope of a
physical resurrection than the act of baptism by immersion? "We were buried
therefore with him through baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised
from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness
of life" (Romans 6:4). Now what happened when Christ was raised from the dead?
His body came out of the tomb and ever since He has had a spiritual body
alive in the heavens. If the Spirit is in us, then, let me say it again: "He
that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal
It is not therefore in any kind of despair or misery that we recognise
that these physical bodies of ours are mortal because of sin. None of us
knows for how many months or years we may be going downhill to the grave
but what we do know is that when our mortal bodies have died, He who raised
up the Lord Jesus from the dead will give life to our mortal bodies. So there
will be a living spirit for all eternity with a living body for all eternity.
Obviously the kind of body that lives in heaven will not be the kind of body
which we have here. It will be a body with no limitations, which will never
grow old; a body which will have all the faculties which we have now and
some! Amazing! It is the life of eternity which the Spirit of life gives to
the child of God.
This double gift, to spirit and body, is referred to in numerous other
places in the New Testament. The Lord Jesus spoke of the spirit when He
declared: "The hour cometh and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice
of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live" and then went on to say:
"The hour cometh in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice
and shall come forth ..." (John 5:25 & 29). The hour is coming and
now is , when dead souls will hear the voice of Christ and come to life,
and the hour is yet to come when all who are in the tombs will come
to the resurrection to life if they are believers in Him. So it is in 2 Corinthians
5 where Paul talks about the tent which will be folded up and the permanent
house which will replace it. But there he also says that we already have the
eternal life: "If any man is in Christ, there is a new creation" (2 Corinthians
5:17). We have eternal life now and we look for the Day when this body in
which we live now will be replaced by another one which will house the new
All this is done for us by the Spirit. We must go back to the beginning
of our chapter, though, and remind ourselves that all this is for those who
are "In Christ". If we belong to Him it is then, and only then, that all
these gifts of the Spirit, operations of the Spirit and promises of the Spirit
are truly for us.
(To be continued) [8/9]
CREATIVITY IN PRAYER
John H. Paterson
ONCE upon a time I was asked to give a talk on the subject Creativity
in Prayer. Frankly, I was taken aback: I had never thought of putting
those two words together in quite that way! Moreover, the request for the
talk came from a group of Christians involved in the arts, which gave to
the title the suggestion that prayer was something to be composed, like music
by Mozart, or created out of word-pictures, after the style of a novelist.
I felt very uneasy about the whole project, and wondered who had been responsible
for conceiving it.
But then, as I thought about the matter, the title began to suggest to
me all kinds of ideas which were both useful and more importantly Scriptural.
Perhaps, after all, the concept of creative prayer was not so outrageous!
Perhaps prayer can be creative, provided that we are clear about what
is being created. So, after thought and prayer, I gave the talk, and I was
glad that I had done so, for the interest of the audience was aroused, and
I was invited to repeat it elsewhere.
Let me begin, then, with the fundamental question: What does prayer
create ? To that, so far as I can see, there is one clear answer: prayer
creates the conditions in which God can act. We have all encountered at
some time the problem, either in our own thinking or in the challenge of
someone else's, "Does prayer really change God's mind? Surely He knows already
what He is going to do: do you expect to alter His will?" Clearly
prayer cannot, in that sense, be said to create God's will, to make up His
mind for Him; otherwise He is no longer sovereign.
But that God should wait for, should expect, from His people, a reaction
before doing His will: that is quite in keeping with His nature and His ways.
So we can say, can we not, that He knows what He will do but He wants
people -- His creatures -- to will it too? What is more (we are guessing
here, but I think the guess can be justified), He wants these people to
desire whatever He wills for the same reason as He wants it. Rather
than act sovereignly, God evidently desires to involve us, His people, in
His decisions and reactions.
Let me at once authenticate that statement, if only in a negative sense,
by referring to the Scriptures, in Isaiah 59:15-16. Here is the prophet's
"... the Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgement.
And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor:
therefore his own arm brought salvation unto him, and his righteousness,
it upheld him ...".
Here is God, says Isaiah, asking, 'Surely there is someone who
sees the point, who realizes the danger, and who will react? Nobody at all?
Then, alas, I'll have to see to it Myself.' Yet the danger was so great,
the lack of righteousness so blatant, that you would have thought that someone
would have acted!
Even more dramatic are the words of the Lord reported by Ezekiel (22:30):
"I sought for a man among them, that should make up the fence, and stand
in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found
none. Therefore I poured out my indignation upon them ...".
It is one of the mysteries of God's working that what He has decided
to do, what he is able at once to do, He will not do without first seeking
the participation of His people.
What is more, He seems to do this not in the grim spirit of an officer
or manager who says to an underling, "You are taking responsibility
for this. I'm not having you trying to shift the blame on to me if it doesn't
work out right!" Rather, God acts out of love and of a desire to share His
thoughts with His people. No-one has ever captured this aspect of prayer
better in words than S. D. Gordon in his Quiet Talks on Prayer. Here,
in some old-fashioned words which I long ago [9/10]
committed to memory, he describes the situation which God desires to create
"God up yonder, His Victor-Son by His side, and a man down here, in such
sympathetic touch that God can think His thoughts over in this man's mind,
and have His desires repeated on the earth as this man's prayer."
The Sympathetic Touch
In those remarkable words about prayer the key phrase, as you will have
noticed, is 'sympathetic touch'. The creation of conditions in which God
can act is dependent on sympathetic (and that, of course, carries the idea
of thinking together) understanding by the man or woman involved of
what God will be planning to do. I deliberately use the rather clumsy phrase
"will be planning" because it is necessary for the human response to come
from someone who can penetrate beneath the surface appearance of God's actions
and reactions to his real intention -- who knows where His real interest
As so often, the very best example comes from the life of Moses! You
will remember that, at the time when Israel, in Moses' absence, made the
golden calf (Exodus 32), God said to him, "Let me alone, that my wrath may
wax hot against them" (v.10). Now, you would have thought that that announcement
should have been enough for anybody, however sympathetic to the wretched Israelites!
After all, Moses might have argued, everything we know about God, including
His own express First Commandment, tells us that He will never tolerate behaviour
like this: it will be His will to destroy the idolators.
But Moses boldly stepped in, as Psalm 106:23 tells us: this time there
was someone to "stand in the breach", the very thing that in Isaiah's and
Ezekiel's day, no one could be found to do. In stepping forward in this
way, Moses said to God, in effect, "No, you cannot do that; because that
is not where Your real interest lies. I know that there is something more
immediately important to You than Your reaction against sin, and that is
the fulfilment of Your purpose."
It was that shared concern for the purpose of God and its achievement
that gave Moses the 'sympathetic touch'! Moses' concern was not at all for
himself (Exodus 32:32 makes that abundantly clear), and only secondarily
for the children of Israel. His primary concern was for the interests
and purposes of God.
It is clear, then, that this 'sympathetic touch' on the part of the believer
implies two things: firstly, a heart for God and for His interests rather
than our own, and secondly, a working knowledge of what those interests are.
The emphasis in prayer, then, should be on what God is doing and not on
what we want. Such prayer creates the conditions in which God can go ahead
with the fulfilment of His purpose. By the same token, misdirected prayer
or, worse, no prayer at all, may delay His purpose.
What Prayer Can Create
What sort of thing or situation may prayer create? If we consider
the best-known prayers of the Bible, we shall be struck by the variety of
answers to that question. Let me take a few examples. Think, if you will,
of Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel 1. That prayer created a man for God's purpose,
and what a man! Samuel knew God in an age of otherwise total ignorance; he
understood His purpose, and devoted himself to God's interests. Or go back
to Exodus 32 and note the creative effect of that prayer of Moses which created
a situation where a whole people were preserved for God's purpose, and eventually
reached the land of promise.
Think, too, of Elijah at Mount Carmel. His prayer created not only one
of history's most dramatic, fiery interventions but a way back to God for
a sadly erring nation. Think of Abraham, by his prayer creating, single-handedly,
a way of escape for Lot and his family from Sodom. That was certainly creative
But it is right that, of all the Bible prayers, perhaps the most 'creative'
was that of the Lord Jesus Himself in John 17, when He prayed for His disciples.
It was that prayer, and its answer, which brought the Church into being --
not as something to be taken for granted, in the sense that, when Jesus went
away, God would naturally want to replace Him, by somebody or something else,
but rather that Jesus prayed into being that replacement, stating
His reasons for asking, and calling on the Father to respond. It is not too
much to say that the Church as it figures in God's purpose, is the creation
of that one prayer. [10/11]
Alignment With The Purpose of God
In all these cases notice how the person praying is consciously aligning
in himself or herself with the known ways of God. Each one is using a knowledge
of God to present in prayer grounds of asking to which they know God will
respond. And because they are able to do so, God's apparent change of mind
(what Exodus 32 calls God's repentance) is very striking; the apparent audacity
of the petitioner is rewarded.
Such knowledge of God's way is not, of course, come by lightly. Let me
set this in the context of our own experience and ask, "How will this work
out in our prayer-lives?" If your experience is like mine, it probably unfolds
(1) A need for prayer, for ourselves or others, is brought to our notice.
We start to pray.
(2) As we do so, we are challenged about the propriety of the request.
Is it something we can legitimately ask? After all, the Lord was selective
in the objects of His prayer. Do you recall that occasion when, to
His listeners at least, it must have seemed as if He was 'trying out' a
prayer request, and then immediately withdrawing it in favour of another
"Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from
this hour. But for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy
I think we can properly conclude that there are some things for which
we cannot pray, and there are certainly times when prayer for a particular
thing is inappropriate, as Moses (Exodus 14:15) and Joshua (Joshua 7:10)
discovered. It may well be that, in a period of praying, a particular request
should properly be withdrawn.
(3) Supposing, however, that our prayer request passes that first test,
there is still a second: is the request made on proper grounds. This, I suspect
is where the longest delays in our praying occur. That we should want what
He wants, and for the same reason as He wants it, is not something to be
taken for granted. As we pray, we shall be challenged about our grounds for
asking. How devious our motives are, even in prayer! How many layers of self-interest
may need to be removed! So many, in fact, that one of Satan's favourite
ways of halting our praying is by making us despair of ever getting
to the bottom layer, of praying honestly.
(4) If we persevere in prayer, however, we may -- let me hope we shall
-- experience the changes which the Lord can make in the most selfish prayer.
With time and the Holy Spirit's repeated challenge, we shall find not only
our prayers modified but ourselves also. In fact, my prayer may be so creative
that it even creates a new 'me'! But it takes time, persistence and honesty.
And it takes, also, a great commitment to the fulfilment of God's purpose,
in His creation and in His people. All the great prayer warriors in the Bible
were concerned, overwhelmingly, for God's purpose and for His reputation
(they used phrases like 'for His great name's sake', but 'reputation' is a
perfectly good modern word.) They knew that these were prayers that moved
God to action. And as they prayed, God not only answered the prayer, but He
transformed the person who prayed it as well!
TRUTH AND LIFE
J. Alec Motyer
2. HOLDING TO THE TRUTH -- THE SECOND EPISTLE OF JOHN
WHEN we considered Titus, we found there the thought of a life which
accords with the truth and clearly this Second Letter of John deals with
the same subject. In Titus it was the life of holiness, the concentration
being on those aspects of personal character which are the public display
of the secret reality of belonging to God in Christ -- being Christlike.
Now the stress in this Letter of John's is that the life which accords with
the truth is the life of mutual Christian love. There were, of course, many
aspects of the teaching in the Letter to Titus which [11/12]
bore on our relationships, yet the stress was on that personal character
and lifestyle which grow out of the truth. Here the stress is on mutuality.
Truth and love are the two things which are brought together and held together.
John the Elder writes to the elect lady and her children whom he claims
to love in truth, meaning that he loved them with a genuine love, not a pretence
or a weak imitation of the real thing, but with a real love. Verse 2 continues
with the declaration that his love is "for the truth's sake." It is the
truth which brings about this situation of love between Christians. The
subject is contained in verses 4 and 5, first with rejoicing that he had
found "children of yours walking in the truth, even as we received commandment
from the Father" and then with a plea, "I beseech you, lady, not as though
I wrote you a new commandment, but that which we had from the beginning,
that we love one another." A commentator remarks: 'Love divorced from duty
will run riot; duty divorced from love will starve.' Love divorced from the
truth of God's commandments is an undefined concept; it runs riot. Duty,
even a dutiful holding of the truth, if it is loveless, is a starved and
impoverished existence. Truth and love belong together.
It seems that John was living at a time of threats and oppression. I
do not know how else to understand the rather obscure way in which he begins
his letter: "The Elder unto the Elect Lady and her children." I have a feeling
that he is writing in a deliberate code language. They knew whom he meant,
though we cannot enter into their special situation. During the world war
of 1939-1945 we in Ireland were neutrals but had to suffer the effects of
the war. We did have the post coming in from England every now and again
but it was heavily censored. I had a friend who was ordained in the Church
of Ireland who used to get letters from his father who was a clergyman in
the Church of England, and they devised a code by which he might know what
was going on in the locality where he had grown up. One day a letter came
saying, 'Cousin Agatha has suffered a stroke, and while she is out of action
we are looking after things for her.' This, being interpreted, 'Agatha's church
in the next parish has been hit by a German bomb, and the congregation is
now worshipping with us!' I have a feeling that John had to keep secret both
his own identity and the people to whom he was writing, so he developed the
code, himself being the Elder and writing not to a lady friend and her children
but to the members of a church.
If that were the case, it was still a relatively unimportant threat from
which God's people were suffering, for threats from outside the church are
always smaller and less menacing than threats from inside it. There were
no code words about the threats to the people who received John's Letter,
for he wrote, "Deceivers have gone forth into the world; they confess not
that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist"
(v.7). Here was the greater menace to the church. John proceeded, "whoever
goes on and abides not in the teaching of Christ, has not God; he that abides
in the teaching, the same has both the Father and the Son" (v.9). These offenders
have gone out into the world, they have departed from the fellowship of
the people of God, but they still seek to introduce their pernicious false
1. Truth and Error
The Church is ever under attack because truth and error are not matters
of opinion, they are not different ways of sharing insights with one another,
but error is a deadly poisonous danger to the Church of God. Their error
involved abandonment of established truth: "They confess not that Jesus is
Christ come in the flesh" (v.7). Truth is abandoned, tacitly perhaps or by
deliberate refusal. They cut an article out of the creed, perhaps putting
something else in or saying that they had found another way of saying the
same thing, but the fact is that they do not confess that Jesus is
the Christ come in the flesh.
Then there is innovation: "Whoever goes on ...". The expression is rather
comparable to our expression of being 'a very advanced thinker' -- so far
out in the front that nobody else can understand what they are saying. There
was one such in Scotland, a theologican called John Omer concerning whom
it was said that when he went there, they couldn't understand a word he was
saying, and when he left they couldn't understand anybody else! That seems
to me to be a good description of the so-called 'Advanced thinker' who goes
on and does not abide in the truth. It is not the going-on that matters; it
is what is left behind. [12/13]
There is a true advance, an advance in the fuller knowledge of the truth.
That is an advance which carries with it all that has been deposited in God's
Church and learns more and more; but there is a false advance which is sheer
innovation. These went on by abandoning something in their innovation, not
in a progress which included the past buy by leaving established truth behind.
This established truth is the serious heart beating of John's Second Letter.
This is the truth which touches on Jesus as the Christ coming in the
flesh. A glance at some verses will show us that the idea of the Christ
is very plainly defined in the Johannine Letters. Basically the name Christ
means the One whom God has anointed. This is a clearly defined idea in John's
writings. A series of references define Him as the Son of the Father (1:3;
2:22; 3:23; 5:20). The second series stresses His essential human experiences
(4:2 and 2 John 7) as well as 5:6: "This is he who came by water and blood
...", stressing that this Christ is the Jesus who enjoyed a truly human
experience right through His incarnation period, both in His baptism in water
and in the blood of His cross.
These are two ideas which are bound together in John's presentation of
the Christ. He is the One who holds together in one person the human and
divine natures. On one hand He is the Son of the Father, on the other hand
He is the One who came in the flesh. The New Testament never says that Jesus
came into flesh, for that might involve a detached and detachable experience
which might at times be His and at times not His. No, no. We are told that
He came 'in flesh' and He became flesh so that sinless flesh is part of His
constitution. In verse 7 there is a unique use of a present participle --
"Jesus is the Christ coming in the flesh", picking up the Old Testament
Messianic title: "The Coming One". This is the great truth which was under
2. Truth and Fellowship
Now we can consider our second point which concerns fellowship. Truth
includes: it brings people together: "The Elder unto the Elect Lady and her
children, whom I love in truth, and not I only but also all they that know
the truth" (v.1). All who loved the truth, loved the Elect Lady and her
children, "For the truth's sake" (v.2). The truth is a binding factor in
the experience of all Christians. Verse 10, however, shows us that the truth
The beginning and ending of this little Letter hold these aspects of
things in balance: "If anyone comes unto you and brings not this teaching,
receive him not." The truth excludes. When at the beginning of the Letter
John says that He loves the Elect Lady and her children with true love,
we find that he is speaking "for the truth's sake" and including a love
which is more than personal for it is not only in him but also in all that
know the truth. All who know the truth love all those who know the truth.
John's love was not just for exceptionally nice people with whom he found
mutuality easy, but due to the fact that they were all adherents of the truth.
The truth binds people together in love. Equally however, the truth divides,
so that those who do not hold it are neither to be received nor supported
as they go, neither to be welcomed nor encouraged with a greeting (vv.10-11).
This is a fearfully sharp cutting off of relationships, yet this is what
it says and our task is to find out what is in the Word of God and believe
What then is this truth which both binds together and separates, which
includes? It is called 'the teaching of Christ' (v.9). The commentators
tell me that this means the teaching which Christ brought, the teaching
which He gave. This may well be so, I have no wish to deny it. I must confess,
though, that to me it seems more likely, in the context of this Letter, that
it means the teaching about Christ, the true awareness of who Christ is in
the reality of His incarnation. We certainly say that the truth which includes
and excludes is that which can be established without doubt as what Jesus
taught, but the centre of that truth is the reality of the Lord Jesus Himself
as the One who holds together in His one person the human and the divine
natures. All those who hold that truth are to be bound together in love,
and they are to establish a distinct identity over against those who reject
I don't want to pretend to you for one moment that this is easy to apply,
but I do present this as Scriptural procedure. We are not
[13/14] to judge those with whom we have fellowship and those to
whom we refuse fellowship on the basis of an elongated itemised creed, insisting
that if people do not dot all our 'i's' and cross all our 't's' we will have
nothing to do with them. That is the error of all exclusivist sects who
demand adherence to their own long list of doctrines and practices; but
we do not want to go to the other extreme and say that creedal formulations
do not matter, and that we can have fellowship with anybody and everybody
who wants it. That will not do either. In this second Letter of John I find
something that is precise and that is the doctrine of the incarnation. If
there is just doubt on some non-essential interpretation of Scripture, we
must not judge others on the basis of that, but what is unequivocal, binding
all true believers and every true church together is essential. To deny that
is to reach the point of severance; the point at which fellowship must be
3. Truth and Life
One of the lovely things in this Letter is that truth brings life to
believers. As the truth is held, and as it issues in love, it brings distinct
blessing from God and fellowship with Him. "Grace, mercy, peace shall be
with us, from God the Father, and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father,
in truth and love".
i. A three-fold blessing
Grace declares that God acts towards us without waiting for anything
from our side. God doesn't tell us that when we are better He will think
about us; nor does He say that He will help us if we try harder. Grace is
the unprovoked redemptive action of God. Mercy points to the fact that God
consults only Himself. He doesn't ask if we are likeable; He just takes
note of the fact that we are pitiable; He consults His own heart and finds
Himself to be a God who is emotionally involved with those who are wretched
and pitiable. And out of this grace of God whereby He does not wait for
us and this mercy of God whereby He consults only what His own nature dictates
to Him, there arises that redemptive, restorative action of God whereby
He brings us into peace of 'wholeness'. The peace of God means A wholeness
of relationship with Himself, a wholeness of relationship with other
people and a wholeness of personality.
ii. A two-fold source
This three-fold blessing has a two-fold source; it comes to us from God
the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father. It is very typical
of this Letter that in it the persons of the Trinity are held apart. If you
study parallel passages in Paul you will find that the Father and the Son
are bound together in a unity of blessing by means of one preposition: "From
the Father and the Son". Here, however, there are two distinct persons, because
it is part of the thrust of the Letter to counteract a denial of the real
deity and the real humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Father and the
Son are spoken of in their distinct entities as they pour out their blessings
of grace, mercy and peace upon the Church.
iii. A two-fold condition
Then there is the two-fold condition of enjoyment. How do these blessings
come to us? They come in the context of truth and love. It is when we live
this life of truth and love that we experience these blessings of God. Living
the life of truth and love is a means of grace, mercy and peace; it is a
means of all the redemptive activities of God finding fruition in us and bringing
us to wholeness.
"This is love, that we should walk after His commandments; this is the
commandment, that you should walk in love" (v.6). Notice, however, what
arises from that: "Whoever goes on and abides not in the teaching of Christ
has not God" (v.9). This reality of truth concerning the Lord Jesus Christ
is the point at which a person either enters into an experience of God or
denies himself that experience. In contrast to that we have this beautiful
truth: "He who abides in the teaching (that is to say, the teaching of Christ)
the same has both the Father and the Son." So it is not just a matter of
receiving the blessing of God, but a matter of entering into fellowship
with God, having the Father and the Son. Notice the coldness and abstractness
of the first part of verse 9. The person who abides not in the teaching
'has not God'. There is only one way to God, and that is through our Lord
Jesus Christ, so that if Jesus is denied in the reality of His Person and
also in His redemptive work as the God-Man, there is no way to God. Feel,
however, the warmth of this contrasting Scripture [14/15]
that if a person rejoices in this truth about Jesus, it is not just 'God'
that he has but the Father and the Son, he enters into a personal relationship
with the holy Trinity.
There are tremendous issues at stake in this matter of holding the truth.
It is not just that which links us with others and separates us from some;
it is that which is the basis of our confident assurance in God. Therefore
John says: "Look to your selves that you destroy not the things which you
have wrought, but receive a full reward". How vital it is to hold on to the
truth! We are to guard it and to work at it, with the end of the matter being
the full reward. By works which are themselves the product of grace, we
enter into what grace has wrought, and advance towards that which grace will
delight to give.
4. Truth and Love
We note first of all that the life of mutual love is inherent in the
Christian scheme of things. It is something that nobody can by-pass: "I
found certain children of yours walking in the truth, even as we received
commandment of the Father." Yes, that is what God wants, but John goes on
to say, "Now I beseech you, Lady, not as though I wrote you a new commandment,
but that which we had from the beginning, that you love one another." It
was as though he said, 'It is not just that I am suggesting, dear Lady, that
it would be a good thing if we were to love one another.' Nor does he say,
'I am an apostle of Christ. By His authority vested in me, I command that
you love one another.' What he does say is, 'Look, I have a request to make:
I ask you something, and it is that we go right back to what has been God's
commandment from the beginning. What I request is something which belongs
to the very nature of things, namely, that those who walk in truth should
also walk in love' (v.5). In the next verse he says that those who walk
in love should walk also in truth. He turns it both ways, showing that the
two are inseparable. Walking in truth requires walking in love and walking
in love requires walking in truth. When John finds a people concerned with
truth he tells them to walk in the way of love; when he finds those who
want to know what is the way of love, he tells them to walk in the truth,
to live according to God's commandments.
How right, then, was what I quoted at the beginning of this article:
Love divorced from truth will run riot. Love is an undefined concept. How
are we to love one another? The most loving thing we can do for each other
is to keep God's commandments in our relationships.
(To be continued)
LIFE IN THE HEAVENLIES
(The Epistle to the Ephesians)
MOST devout students agree that Paul's Letter to the Ephesians reaches
the highest height of spiritual excellence. This is the only place where
the apostle uses the expression 'in the heavenlies', and he does so five
times. It would be quite impossible for me to begin to expound this whole
Letter, but I hope to be able to comment helpfully on the references to the
heavenlies which are found in it.
In some notable ways the Letter is different from others written by Paul.
Apart from the bearer, Tychicus, it makes no personal references, in spite
of the fact that the apostle had spent much longer than usual in the city
of Ephesus and had taken a tearful farewell of its leaders (Acts 20:37).
Neither does it deal with special problems or needs as most of the other Epistles
do. It is, in fact, a more general statement of [15/16]
spiritual truths and is sometimes considered to have been a kind of Circular
Letter, equally applicable to a number of churches. We are told that the
oldest MSS do not contain a specific reference to Ephesus and there is a
conjecture that it might also have been sent to the neighbouring Laodicea,
especially as Paul does indicate that Tychicus carried a Letter to that city
as well as to Colosse (Colossians 4:15-16). May we perhaps be permitted to
think that it was written to both Ephesus and Laodicea, so that the opening
verse could read: "To the saints which are at ...", leaving the names to
be filled in as required.
This is only conjecture, but it is a fascinating suggestion, since Ephesus
and Laodicea were the first and seventh churches to whom the risen Christ
sent Letters through His servant John (Revelation 2 & 3). Both were badly
at fault and threatened with repudiation by their Lord. Ephesus offended
in a departure from personal love to Christ and Laodicea did so in departing
from the basis of grace. Since grace and love form the great themes of this
Letter, it is sad to note that in some twenty or thirty years these churches
had degenerated in this serious way, yet are these not precisely the twin
perils of the passage of time? Many churches and individuals still become
so involved with Christian work and orthodoxy that they move away from simple
devotion to the Lord Jesus and leave the first love of their original preoccupation
with Him. Furthermore, many churches and individuals can become so prosperous
and successful that grace is no longer to them the charming sound that it
used to be and they tend so to imagine themselves superior that they make
the Lord feel sick.
These are the perils which the passing of time brings to all. Could it
be that it was because the Lord foresaw them that He inspired Paul to put
down the great facts of spiritual reality which never change and to which
we must ever return? If by John's Revelation the Ephesians were shocked
into reconsidering their spiritual state (and we are right to believe that
perhaps they were), then where better could they find recovery to the first
things than by reading again this famous apostolic Epistle? And if (as we
may surely hope) the Laodiceans heeded John's warnings, whence could they
obtain the refined gold of spiritual reality and the eyesalve of spiritual
discernment if not by turning back to this Epistle of earlier days? Thank
God for a Saviour who foresees our weaknesses and failings and provides
Is it possible that our love for Christ and for His people has grown
somewhat stale, in spite of our many praiseworthy activities? May it be
that all unintentionally we have moved from the ground of grace, even though
we sing and speak of it; that we imagine ourselves now to be somebodies when
in fact we are still nobodies? That is a feature of deceitful legalism (Galatians
6:3). It could be! It could easily be! The Corinthian, Galatian, Colossian
and Thessalonian churches needed warnings and corrections; their Epistles
provide these and will warn and correct us. The Ephesian Letter has rather
a different emphasis: it stresses for us the great spiritual truths of the
Church of the first born ones whose names are written in heaven and, in the
course of this statement, employs five times over that rather mysterious phrase,
"in the heavenlies." This will surely repay closer examination.
We know from the context that the words do not refer to that timeless
experience of God's glory which will be our eternal home and which we call
Heaven. No, while they were 'in the heavenlies' these saints were still in
Ephesus, facing life's daily challenges and wrestling with spiritual opposition.
There is a "world which is to come" (1:21) and there is there [in that world]
the employers' Master who will one day call us all to account (6:9), but
that is a different matter. We are dealing now not with 'heaven' but with
'heavenly places', though in fact the word 'places' was never employed by
Paul for he was not dealing with a locality for our future but a present experience
for us now. The best description that I have been able to find is that given
by John Stott who tells us that the matter under consideration is 'the unseen
world of spiritual reality' (The Bible Speaks Today ).
Before we deal with this, however, we may need to be reminded that the
message of the gospel does focus on future blessedness. It is not
only the gospel of peace but also the gospel of hope -- "for by hope we were
saved" (Romans 8:24) and we must wait for it with patience.
[16/17] One of the unusual features of this Letter is that it seems
to make no mention of the Second Coming of Christ which is everywhere so
evident in the rest of the New Testament. A clear reference to that great
event is however found in the statement that we have all been sealed with
the Holy Spirit of promise in the light of a day which is yet to come: "unto
the redemption of God's own possession."
This sealing surely cannot represent any spiritual experience of enduement,
important as it is to be endued with power from on high, for the purpose
apparently indicates the seal of which Paul wrote to Timothy when he assured
him that "the Lord knoweth them that are his" (2 Timothy 2:19). Again in this
Letter to the Ephesians the apostle speaks of the Spirit as having sealed
them "unto the day of redemption" (4:30).
I have read that in Paul's native Cilicia, logs were floated down the
river to the coast and before the process started, each tree trunk was branded
with its owner's mark so that there should be no question of a disputed ownership
when they were assembled at their destination. Whether this was so I do not
know, but I can bear witness to the fact that this was a custom in the area
of N.E. Brazil where I lived many years ago. In the flood, the rafts of
cedar trees were floated down to the sawmill on the coast, each trunk being
clearly marked so that if the rafts broke up or when they were dismantled,
no-one could question who owned them.
We are sealed now. Our possession by Christ should be clear for all to
see. But although we are already His purchased possession now, the particular
stress in this passage is to do with our arrival at our destination in eternity.
That, says the apostle, will not be a matter for decision then, since the
moment we believed, the Spirit stamped us with the name of the Lord Jesus.
We were so sealed when we believed and that seal marks out our destination.
1. BLESSINGS IN THE HEAVENLIES (1:1-14)
This first section, which in the original is just one sentence, is really
an ecstatic hymn of praise to the Father for what He has done for us. It
also reminds us that our present chorus of praise is but a prelude to the
eternal future appreciation of God's great goodness to undeserving sinners.
Three times over this objective is brought before us in the phrase: "To the
praise of his glory" and in fact we might almost think that the arrangement
of the sentence is designed to call us to praise and worship of the whole
Trinity. "To the praise of the glory of his grace" (v.6) refers us back to
the Father's loving choice of a glorious destiny for us. "To the praise of
his glory" (v.12) closes a paragraph which stresses the Son's loving sacrifice
on Calvary to redeem us to God. The final phrase of the passage, "to the praise
of his glory" (v.14) is closely connected with the loving activities of the
Holy Spirit in ensuring the full realisation in us of the divine purpose.
Not that there are three different sections, for as it is impossible
to divide up the three Persons of the Trinity, so it would be artificial
to divide this sentence into three parts. It is good, though, to realise
that while we open it with a heartfelt tribute to the heavenly Father, our
experiences "in the heavenlies" is altogether Trinitarian, Father, Son and
Spirit combining in their purpose of love for all of us who are saints and
1. Available Blessings
The opening statement is overwhelmingly wonderful. The Father of our
Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. We are told
that He has already done this. First of all, then, we note that here all
God's activities are spoken of in terms of the past. When we come to the
next reference to the heavenlies (vv.15-23) we will find ourselves praying
for a deep understanding of these truths, but here we find stated positively
what God has already done. He has blessed us (v.3) because He has chosen us
(v.4), predestined us (v.5), redeemed us (v.8), enlightened us (v.9) and sealed
us (v.13). [17/18]
This last action brings us up to the present, for it is associated with
our first committal of faith, but the chain of events leading up to the present
carries us far back into that timeless era "before the foundation of the
world". From all eternity the Father desired holy sons, determined to have
them, chose those in whom He could satisfy His desires and plans, and redeemed
them for Himself. All this is included in the assertion that He has blessed
us with all spiritual blessings. There are no adaptations, no modifications
and no afterthoughts with our God. He did not need to improvise when Adam
failed Him since in any case Adam was only "a figure of him that was to come"
(Romans 5:14). God was not obliged by Israel's rejection of Christ to accept
the crisis of the cross, since the whole matter of the slain Lamb had been
decided upon before times eternal. We must never think of second causes in
our appreciation of God's sovereign grace; the constitution and the destiny
of the Church was conceived and decided by the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
from all eternity. Thus it is that we find ourselves 'in the heavenlies',
with every spiritual blessing lavished upon us in Christ. One of the greatest
Christian virtues is humility, and rightly to discover the vast and heavenly
setting into which salvation has brought us cannot do other than humble us
to the dust.
Say, while lost in holy wonder,
Why, O Lord, such love to me?
In the heavenlies we find that we are dealing with a God who is totally
committed to give us every blessing and who will explain to us why this is
so. We begin then with the assertion that all God's blessings are freely
available to those who are in Christ.
2. Spiritual Blessings
Before we go further, however, we need to take note of the fact that
the blessings being spoken of are spiritual blessings. It is true that in
the Old Testament God's blessings are often described in terms of material
prosperity and well-being, as may be verified in such passages as Deuteronomy
28:1-13, but even in those days people proved that God's essential and lasting
blessings are always those which are spiritual. Some of the Lord's most
honoured servants never experienced those outward signs of His favour which
men call blessings.
Moses entered his service for God with just his shepherd's rod and, forty
years later, he had seemingly accumulated nothing more in terms of earthly
possessions. He had no cattle of his own and never accepted any as gifts
(Numbers 16:15). His brother Aaron was clothed with beautiful garments but
it seems that Moses went through to the end with the clothes he stood up in.
He had no special supplies of food but presumably had to collect his daily
supply of manna just like the others. In a striking scene of retirement, Aaron
passed on his priestly office to his son Eleazar (Numbers 20:25-29), whereas
Moses died in solitude and had no family connections with his successor Joshua.
So Moses had no obvious or earthly prosperity, yet who will doubt that he
was one of the most blest of all God's servants.
Elijah was certainly an outstanding representative of all the prophets,
but clearly all his blessings must have been spiritual, for he had no assets
here on earth and neither did he desire any. Even in those Old Testament
days the greatest blessings were spiritual. And how much more is this so in
the New Testament. These are what matter; they are lasting and always have
eternity in view. These are what the Lord Jesus was talking about in the
Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount.
Spiritual blessings. If at first such a description appears to
limit the extent of God's blessings, this is not at all the case. On the
contrary, it enlarges the sphere of blessedness for those in the heavenlies
for in their case everything can truly be called a divine blessing and can
become spiritually profitable, even though its primary form may be material.
For those who belong to the heavenlies, even daily mercies are calculated
to have spiritual significance.
Since the Lord Jesus assured us that our heavenly Father would always
provide food and clothing, there is a sense in which such benefits may be
classified as spiritual. A car is not in itself a blessing, but it can be
made so if it is used for the Lord. Finance is only 'filthy lucre' when it
responds to human greed. In itself this world's currency is far from spiritual,
but it is given heavenly value when it is used for God. How else can we explain
the fact that Paul described the gifts sent to him by the Philippians as "an
[18/19] odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable,
well-pleasing to God" (4:18), What can be more spiritual than fragrant sacrifices
for God's good pleasure?
The same can be true of human relationships. Marriage, of itself, is
a natural and not a spiritual matter. Yet consider the case of a certain
couple called Aquila and Priscilla. Although the Scriptures give advice
on marriage, they very rarely link two names together in the "Mr. and Mrs."
manner of address, but these two are an exception and are never mentioned
except as a couple, which seems to stress that theirs was a God-blessed union.
I imagine that Aquila felt, as many other husbands have done, that his wife
was indeed a gift of God's goodness to him. Call this a merely natural blessing
if you like, but notice the spiritual overtones. Their natural union became
a spiritual blessing, not only to them but to many others also. Paul was
one of these (Acts 18:3) and Apollos was another (Acts 18:26). Their local
church found blessings in their home (1 Corinthians 16:19) and eventually
many churches shared in the blessings (Romans 16:4).
So much for the good things of this life, but even the seemingly bad
things may yet become a blessing to those who dwell in the heavenlies. Things
which seem the reverse of benefits can become spiritual blessings. We instinctively
turn to that satanic 'thorn in the flesh' of Paul's. This must have seemed
the very denial of blessing to the suffering apostle, yet it became an outstanding
enrichment, not to him and his contemporaries only but also to the multitude
of grateful believers since who have been comforted by the assurance, "My
grace is sufficient for thee." In countless other cases, individuals in Christ
have found that personal trials are transformed into spiritual blessings.
And what about church trouble? Paul grieved and wept over the Corinthian
situation but out of his distress came 1 Corinthians 13, a chapter full of
spiritual benefits if ever there was one. No doubt many modern Christians
grieve and almost weep over their church situation. To such the apostle's
advice would surely be that they should beware of speaking or acting in any
way contrary to what befits those who belong to heavenly places. In Balaam's
day God turned the curse into a blessing for His trusting people (Numbers
23:20) and can do the same for us in our day.
In this connection, however, it is important not to let genuine blessings
from God become the reverse of spiritual. With his uncle Abraham, Lot enjoyed
blessings of prosperity. No doubt these were God-given blessings, but they
tested him -- as all temporal blessings do -- and in the end his prosperity
proved his undoing. Solomon received material blessings for which he had
not even asked -- unparalleled riches and honour (1 Kings 3:13) -- but his
sad history shows that his wealth was what largely caused his spiritual decline.
King Hezekiah enjoyed the blessing of miraculous healing from a mortal sickness,
only to fail so badly that we wonder whether it would not have been better
for him and his people if he had not then died. So temporal blessings do
not automatically bring spiritual advantage.
3. Costly Blessings
God could bring a world into being by simply speaking the word. He could
create the human race by shaping dust and bringing in life. In the matter
of true blessing, however, we are told that it involved paying a ransom price
(v.7) and that the price was the shed blood of His only Son. Those who belong
to the heavenlies come increasingly to realise that the benefits freely
given to them have been exceedingly costly to the divine Giver.
To the unenlightened it would seem natural and logical that God -- being
God -- could have His desires fulfilled at minimal cost to Himself. The fact
is, though, that in the very same sentence in which the apostle writes of
the Father's original desires and eternal purpose and of His ability to
work everything in accordance with them, he reminds us that this was only
possible by redemption, and the essence of redemption is the payment of
a price. Blessings are "freely bestowed on us" only because the Beloved Son
shed His life's blood to purchase them. We cannot buy such blessings; the
sum total of human resources would never be sufficient for the purpose; they
are utterly beyond us. They are infinitely valuable. [19/20]
It is noteworthy that Ephesus was the place where Christians, delivered
from bondage to Satan, made a public bonfire of their valuable belongings,
so that a large sum of money, 50,000 drachmas, went up in flames (Acts 19:19).
If, as the N.I.V. tells us, 'a drachma was about a day's wages', that gives
us an idea of what their faith cost them. They did not sacrifice this large
sum to become Christians, that would be absurd, but they gladly threw it
away in their realisation of the much better treasure which had come to them
There is no surer way of measuring the great worth of God's blessings
to His children than by considering how costly they were to the Lord who
obtained them for us. Our individual forgiveness and reconciliation to God
are said to be by Christ's shed blood (1:7 & 2:13) and our united life
in the body due to His sufferings on the cross (2:16). We are told that in
sacrificially giving Himself up, He both made for us individually the relationship
of dearly loved children of God (5:2) and purchased the Church for His bride
(5:25). We are also reminded that the Son became dead in order that the power
of His resurrection might raise us up from death (1:20) and that He descended
into the depths so that we could share with Him the triumph of His resurrection
(4:9). Blessings which are freely given to us cost the Saviour an infinite
What more can we say? Those who belong to the heavenlies growingly appreciate
that their blessings, so lavishly poured out on them in Christ, are precious
beyond their power of understanding and come from a love which surpasses
understanding (3:19). Earth's treasures have therefore no attraction for them
and this world's gains become a dead loss.
4. Moral Blessings
God has a purpose in all His activities and in this matter of our blessings
we are clearly informed that His objective is that we might be "holy and
blameless before him" (1:4). The Letter begins by calling us saints -- holy
ones -- and then continues with this theme of working on us and working in
us so that we may measure up to the supreme standard of His holiness. That
is the eternal purpose of our heavenly Father in bringing us to the birth.
If a baby has the blessings of indulgent parental love, that is all that can
be expected at the time of his infancy, but the longer term prospect is of
mature and responsible sonship. Spiritually this parallel holds good. Predestination
is not so much concerned with our new birth as with our calling to be God's
recognised sons, responding to His love as well as receiving it. He lavishes
His blessings upon the children of His family with the prospect of their
eventual experience of living "to the praise of His glory", when they attain
to mature manhood, "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ"
Sonship involves responsibilities. As we continue in our studies in this
Letter, we will see more of what the Father expects of His favoured children
in terms of Christlikeness of character. For the moment, however, we consider
not the demands of our calling but its resources. Holiness is not to be a
burden but a blessing; whatever the Father expects of us is already provided
for us in Christ. In the heavenlies, therefore, we adore Him for the limitless
abundance of His blessings. Fortified and sanctified by these, we gladly
accept the challenge of learning to live to the praise of the glory of His
(To be continued) [20/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
OLD TESTAMENT PARENTHESES (19)
"(Though even unto that time I had not set up the doors in the gates
)" Nehemiah 6:1
IT is when God is most prospering our labours that Satan's wiliest attacks
come against us. In an incredibly short time the whole wall around Jerusalem
had been restored; "there was no breach left therein." It was a period when
God's servant might have relaxed and it was just at that very time when the
subtle enemies of the work of God suggested the advisability of a new 'dialogue'
between them and invited Nehemiah to share their hospitality in the plain
of Ono for that purpose.
IT was a trick. The sole purpose was to lure Nehemiah away from the work
of restoration, with the probability that he would never have been able to
return to it. I know, to my sorrow, how real that temptation was. Many years
ago, at a time of great blessing, several of us were lured into something
of this nature. My discerning colleague, dear George Taylor, urged us to
get on with the work and refuse to discuss things with our attackers, saying
that this would mean, 'going down to the plain of Ono.' I am sorry to say
that we ignored his counsel and found later that we had got out of the will
NEHEMIAH avoided this trap, and he did so by realising the importance
of what remained to be done: "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come
down." So he refused to be drawn into idle arguments by concentrating on
the work which God had given him to do.
OUR parenthesis tells us what constituted that 'great work' which yet
remained; there were no doors to make the various gateways effective. It
was this that detained him and enabled him to reject their repeated requests
for him to come down. What was the use of closing gaps and building gates
if the doors were not in their place? What was the use of closing gaps and
building gates if the work was left in this unfinished state? The whole city
was vulnerable while those entrances were not capable of being closed against
IN Nehemiah's days the doors were needed to guard the city during the
hours of darkness (7:3) and to ensure the sanctity of the Sabbath (13:19).
For us they emphasise the need for excluding from our lives and fellowships
all that might dishonour the name of the Lord. Whether in our assemblies,
our homes or our private lives, the wall of testimony must be adequately protected
from defiling intrusions. The doors must be set up in the gates.
THE GRACE OF GOD THAT BRINGS SALVATION
HAS APPEARED TO ALL MEN. IT TEACHES US ...
TO LIVE SELF-CONTROLLED, UPRIGHT AND GODLY
LIVES IN THIS PRESENT AGE, WHILE WE WAIT FOR
THE BLESSED HOPE -- THE GLORIOUS APPEARING
OF OUR GREAT GOD AND SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST
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