|Vol. 15, No. 2, Mar. - Apr. 1986
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
LET HIM WHO BOASTS BOAST IN THE LORD
(Studies in 1 Corinthians 1 to 4)
1. THE CHURCH OF GOD (1:1-17)
THESE first four chapters are not only an introduction but form a foundation
which Paul lays for the rest of the teaching of this Letter to the Corinthians.
They form a unity of their own and deal with certain foundational principles
which the Church of Jesus Christ urgently needs to re-learn in our generation.
If one were to try to identify the main thrust of these four chapters and
their message, it would be in terms of an urgent summons to put God rather
than man at the centre of our thinking in every sphere of life. The call
is to do this in our thinking about the Church, about the gospel, about the
world, about the service of God and about the life of the man of God.
I think that perhaps there is no more urgent plea that can be made to
the Christian Church in our generation than that by God's infinite grace
we might find ourselves brought to a God-centredness in a man-centred world.
There is no question that so many of the problems that Paul deals with in
the Church at Corinth arose from failure at precisely this point. There was
a pervasive man-centredness in that Church so that they gloried in man rather
than in God, boasting in human achievements rather than in divine accomplishments.
They experienced factions and divisions, quarrels and jealousies which led
to distortions in their view of the gospel, difficulties in relationships
with each other and carelessness about God's standards; and they derived
all this from fundamentally sick man-centredness in their thinking.
So Paul took up the words of Jeremiah 9:24 and used them as a kind of
text: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord" (1:31). In one way or another
these four chapters give a sort of exposition of Jeremiah's words. Quite
simply, I want to say to you that it is an increasing conviction in my own
spirit that there is no emphasis that we need more in the contemporary Christian
Church. As you know, Paul had come to Corinth in the course of his second
missionary journey and had come with quite a catalogue of discouragement
behind him. At Troas, after many mysterious frustrations, he had received
the call to Macedonia (Acts 16:9) and moved into Greece with the thrill of
a divinely opened door, only to have his time cut short in Philippi by a prison
sentence, his work in Thessalonica ended by a riot which pursued him to Berea
from whence he was conducted to Athens only to be met by a mixture of amused
tolerance, mockery and cynicism. So it was not really surprising that when
he came to the Southern area of Greece, he did so in "weakness and fear and
much trembling". It was there in Corinth that God taught him in a special
way how to exult and boast in God rather than in man. The first seventeen
verses of this First Letter apply this theme to the Church of God in its
foundation, its origin, its constitution, its character, its destiny and
1. The Foundation of the Church (Verse 1)
"Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God
...". In introducing himself in this way, Paul emphasises the foundation
of the Church. This is different from thinking about the founder of the Church.
It is true that humanly speaking Paul was founder of this Church inasmuch
as he was the evangelist who broke new ground in Corinth and preached the
gospel there. To him, however, the more important truth is that as an apostle
he was the foundation of the Church, not as a person but as an apostle. This
is a vital issue in our contemporary world. [21/22]
Ephesians 2:20 is the classic statement on this matter for it states
that the household of God is "built upon the foundation of the apostles
Let me clarify this a little. The idea of apostleship has three applications
in the New Testament. The first use of the word is a simple universal term
for a messenger. The apostolos was one sent by another as in John
13:16 where 'he that is sent' is simply the word 'apostle'. The second use
of the word is in a more specific sense concerning those who are sent on commission:
"they are the messengers (apostles) of the churches" (2 Corinthians 8:23).
The classic New Testament use of the word, however, is the third one and
it refers exclusively to the elect band of Twelve and Paul himself. Jesus
chose from among His disciples twelve, whom He called apostles (Luke 6:13).
It is always in this strict use of the word apostle that Paul describes himself
in his introductions. These men were those who were appointed and commissioned
by the Lord Jesus to teach with authority. It is in this sense that Paul
spoke of the foundation of the apostles and prophets in Ephesians 2:20.
He did not refer to the persons of the apostles. Paul specifically states
in 3:11 that the only personal foundation of the Church is Jesus Christ,
apart from whom there can be no other foundation. But the doctrinal foundation
of the Church is the apostles, i.e., the apostolic teaching, which for us
means the New Testament. The apostolic teaching is enscripturated in the New
The Holy Spirit inspires the apostles and ourselves in different ways.
He inspired the apostles to write Scripture and He inspires us to
understand and teach and obey it. The inspiration
of the Scriptures is primarily concerned with the apostolic doctrine, and
this means that this is the foundation of the Church and explains why Paul
urged upon the Corinthians that he was an apostle of Jesus Christ by the
will of God. It means that when we depart from apostolic doctrine, either
by subtracting from it or by adding to it, we are eroding the very foundation
of the Church of God, grieving the Holy Spirit who inspired the apostles,
dishonouring the Lord Jesus who authorised them and endangering the Church
which needs the apostolic authority for its well-being.
It was a major mark of the sickness of the Corinthians that they questioned
this authority. "Am I not an apostle?" Paul demanded, "Have not I seen Jesus
our Lord?". In other words he wanted to establish his apostolic authority,
not for the sake of boosting himself but for the Church's well-being. This
means that we cannot pick and choose, as if saying that we like Paul here
but are not so keen on him there; that he is acceptable to us in one area
but not in another. As believers in obedience to the Lord Jesus who commissioned
the apostles, we must be submitted to the whole of apostolic teaching or
else be found eroding His Church. Neither may we suggest that some things
are of Paul but not of Jesus, and so we dispute Paul's opinions. The apostles
are the mouthpiece of Jesus and we need to grasp that they teach with His
authority and with His seal.
2. The Origin of the Church (Verse 2)
"Unto the church of God ...". The Church derives its origin from Him.
It is God's Church; the creation of it was His plan, the calling of it at
His initiative, the ownership of it is in His hands; it is the Church which
He obtained with the blood of His own Son. The origin of the Church lies
in God's activities and not in ours. More specifically, the origin of the
Church lies in God's grace: "... because of the grace of God which was given
you in Christ Jesus" (v.4). The only thing which could possibly have produced
the Church in the city of Corinth was the grace of God. The commentators vie
with one another in describing how debased that city was. Perhaps the most
colourful comment is that which says, 'Take Soho in London, Las Vegas in
the U.S. and add into it the seamier side of Amsterdam, and you will probably
know what Corinth was like in the First Century.' And yet, in that most unpromising
background, there was raised the glorious reality of the redeemed people
of God, and Paul was able to declare: "I thank my God always concerning you,
for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus."
Now that is more than a doctrinal truth. In the New Testament grace always
has the distinctive sense of unmerited and unrepayable kindness to undeserving
sinners, and this is the first lesson that sinners need to learn if they
are to experience salvation. But it is the continuing lesson which the Church
of Jesus Christ needs to learn if it would enjoy the blessing of God, and
for this reason, that it is the doctrine of pure grace, salvation by grace
alone, through faith alone and in Christ alone, which makes men boast in
God alone and prevents them from boasting in men.
The origin of the Church is in the grace of God: "For by grace have ye
been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of
God: not of works, that no man should glory" (Ephesians 2:8-9). God has
provided salvation in such a way that He will jealously retain to Himself
all the glory and honour for it. He deals with us through all our Christian
experience on precisely this basis with the same end in view -- that no-one
should boast in men. In Romans 3, when Paul reaches the apex of his argument
for justification by grace through faith, he asks: "Where then is the boasting?"
and himself gives the answer "It is excluded" (Romans 3:27). Grace and human
boasting cannot co-exist. We need to learn, as Archbishop Temple once wisely
said, 'The only thing that we can contribute to our own salvation is the
sin that made it necessary.'
3. The Constitution of the Church (Verse 2)
In this verse Paul describes and defines the constitution of the Church
for us in two ways:
i. "them who are sanctified in Christ Jesus ...". Now that is
a very significant phrase and we need to unpack it a little. We normally
think of sanctification as that lifelong process in the believer whereby
God changes us into the image of Christ, that is, this involves a change
in our character and condition. That of course is the general way in which
the word 'sanctification' is used in the New Testament. It is a word that
speaks of the transformation of our character. In verse 2, however, the
verb is perfect, passive participle, and so refers to something already
done and completed. It has already taken place.
Now sanctification in terms of the change of our character is something
which is still taking place and will continue to take place until we reach
glory. Yet the Church of God in Corinth consisted of those who had been sanctified
in Christ Jesus. The same usage is found when, speaking of his readers,
the apostle writes, "Such were some of you; but ye were washed, but ye were
sanctified, but ye were justified ..." (6:11). In this verse the apostle
suggests that sanctification precedes justification rather than following
it. The key to this is found in the words, "in Christ Jesus", a kind of
shorthand way by which Paul refers to the believers' union with Christ.
When we become believers we are united to the Lord Jesus Christ; we believe
into Him and the Holy Spirit unites us to Him like branches to a
vine or limbs to a body. And by that union we are separated from the old
life and the old regime of sin -- separated unto the Lord Jesus. That is
the way in which this word is here used by Paul. 'Sanctification' refers to
our standing or position as Christians rather than to our condition or character.
In this sense every Christian has been sanctified or separated in Christ
Jesus. So the Church of Christ consists of those who have experienced this
supernatural work of grace, being separated from the regime of sin and set
apart for Christ.
ii. "called to be saints, with all that call upon the name of our
Lord Jesus Christ in every place, their Lord and ours." The Church consists
of those who have both been called by God and who call upon God; indeed the
very word for Church, ekklesia, means the called ones, those who
have known the call of God. This is one of the New Testament's favourite
ways of describing the Christian Church. Christians are those who have been
called by God out of darkness into light, called into fellowship with His
Son (1:9), called to be free, called to be holy, called with a heavenly calling.
Now the significant thing about the whole idea of being called by God
is that the word does not just refer to something which is vocal and verbal.
When we speak of the call of God we frequently think of God calling men to
Himself, so that 'I heard the voice of Jesus say, Come unto Me and rest.'
That is the call of God in the gospel. He speaks to people in this way, He
calls, 'Come unto me and rest'. He calls them by name, 'Samuel, Samuel; Moses,
Moses!' He calls people whenever the gospel is being preached. But those
who are in the Church of Jesus Christ and are [23/24]
the called of God are not simply those who have heard the call of the
gospel in a verbal and vocal sense. Their experience is infinitely more
than this as can be proved by a consideration of the steps which God takes
in calling men to glory: "Whom he foreordained, them he also called, and
whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also
glorified" (Romans 8:30). We are told then that whom God called, them He
also justified, but we know that not everybody who hears the call of the
gospel is justified, so Paul means something more than that and the call
of God means something more than that.
This is the sort of call which is illustrated in John 11 in the story
of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus called him out of death into life, out of
darkness into light, out of the tomb into the glorious sunshine of the day.
The Lord called 'Lazarus!' If you think of it, there is nothing more preposterous
than calling into a grave to a dead man. It was a ridiculous thing to do,
but the call of the Lord Jesus contained within it the power of God to raise
the dead and when He so called, there is a sense that there was nothing Lazarus
could do but obey the call. He was drawn out of the tomb and stood before
them all, a man called by God.
Now the call of God of which Paul here speaks is precisely that. The
Lord Jesus, whose voice awakens the dead, stood at the grave of your life
as a child of wrath, living under the dominion of sin and death, and He
called to you, 'Come forth!' My beloved friends, if you are Christians,
true children of God, nothing less than that has happened to you; it is
the calling voice of God which has made you members of His Church. That
Church does not consist simply of people who have decided to follow Jesus
-- though they have -- or committed their lives to Him -- though they have
so committed themselves -- but it consists of those who have been called
out of the tomb of spiritual death and brought into everlasting life and
The Church also consists of those who join with all others in calling
on the name of the Lord Jesus -- their Lord and ours! They are a united people,
bound together by a common submission to the Lordship of Jesus, and they
are a worshipping and serving community. They are also a praying people who
know grace and peace not merely as a greeting from Paul but as the basis
of their relationship.
4. The Character of the Church (verses 4-7)
From verse 4 Paul turns to thanksgiving and in doing so he describes
some of the characteristics of the Church of God. These who were once without
God and without hope, which is poverty indeed, are now the possessors of riches
of God's grace: "In everything you were enriched in him". It is significant
that Paul cites just two ways in which they are enriched, namely, in speech
and knowledge. This speech would be their own testimony to the grace of God
and their knowledge would in an ultimate sense not just be the knowledge
of truths but also knowledge of God. This knowledge is the true enrichment
which grace brings to us, and this matter ties up with the whole of Jeremiah's
words from which Paul later quoted: "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory
in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth
and knoweth me ..." (Jeremiah 9:23-24). The Church of Jesus Christ should
therefore above all be characterised as a people who know God and make Him
They were also characterised by their possession of spiritual gifts (verse
7). The words for grace and gift are very closely related. It is a work of
God's grace that He gives spiritual gifts to His Church. Paul says that the
Corinthians did not lack any spiritual gift, so he was obviously not referring
to individuals but to the whole Church. God enriches this so that as a body
they do not lack anything. But the Church is not only a product of grace
and a possessor of gifts; it is also characterised by its preparation for
glory: "as you eagerly wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ" ...
"that ye may be unreproveable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (vv.7-8).
Their eyes are primarily upon Him as they wait for His coming, and their hearts
are in another world.
This is what ought to distinguish the Church of Christ. This is its unique
feature; it is a colony of heaven whose members wait for their Saviour, the
Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20). In this [24/25]
world therefore the Church of Christ lives as aliens, belonging and yet
not belonging, living by different standards, judging by different criteria,
owing allegiance to another King, marching to the drum-beat which will announce
His coming. The Church's chief ambition must be to be found blameless on
the Day of His coming.
This is the picture of the Church which the apostle gives to us. Clearly
it was a distorted reflection of what obtained at Corinth. But is it a picture
of the Church of Jesus Christ in our contemporary world? Are God's people
what used to be called 'heavenly minded'? This was the quality which made
men and women those whose proper home was in another realm. It is a rather
sad thing that our modern cleverness tends to despise and dismiss that concept
with phrases like, 'Oh, he's so heavenly minded that he is no earthly use.'
For my part, I do not meet people like that. That is not my problem. In my
own life or in the Church of Christ today the problem is precisely the reverse.
5. The Destiny of the Church (Verse 8 & 9)
"Who will also confirm you unto the end". He will keep you strong, He
will sustain you. That is the future hope of the Church of Jesus Christ and
it is grounded on the persevering faithfulness of God. Verse 9 should really
begin with the word 'faithful'. It is interesting that the N.I.V. has taken
the first word in the Greek and made it the last. The ground on which the
destiny of the Church rests is the absolutely secure one of God's faithfulness.
This hope is an absolute confidence that at the coming of Christ we shall
be found in the same state of grace and acceptance in which as Christians
we stand today. Verse 9 assures us that it is the irrevocability of God's
call that gives us such assurance of the Church's destiny, and because of
it we will certainly stand unimpeachable in God's presence in the Day of
Christ's coming because the calling of God is irrevocable. Paul says that
God is faithful even if we are faithless (2 Timothy 2:13). That is persevering
grace and what it means is that when the Lord Jesus hands the kingdom over
to His Father He will say to Him: "Here I am and the children which Thou
hast given me" and "not one of them is lost." Such is the blood-bought birthright
of every child of God.
Some years ago one of our national newspapers ran articles entitled,
'Is there a future for the Church?' It examined all kinds of trends and
statistics and, if I remember rightly, the conclusion drawn was, Probably
not! But of course the right answer depends on what you mean by 'The Church'.
If you mean any particular organization or denomination, the answer will
be, 'Not necessarily.' It is by no means sure that there is a future for
some denominational group structure or organization, for God nowhere pledges
Himself to perpetuate any such group. If, however, you mean the Church of
Jesus Christ which is the people of God and the members of Christ's body
and the temple of the Holy Spirit, then the answer is that there is absolutely
nothing in the universe so secure. Everything that God is doing focuses
in the Church and His sovereign purpose in the world is concentrated on
the words of the Lord Jesus: "I will build my church, and the gates of hell
shall not prevail against it."
This is His purpose, and the rest of history finds its place within the
context of that purpose. There is a sense in which the rest of history is
just the scaffolding behind which the Lord is building that Church. My city
of Glasgow has some of the most beautiful Victorian architecture in the world
and what they are doing there today is stone-cleaning some of those magnificent
buildings and restoring them to their old original pristine beauty. The
result is that at present the whole place is covered with scaffolding everywhere.
When, however, they take the scaffolding down and remove the covers, suddenly
the hitherto hidden things of beauty will be revealed. And that is what
God is going to do with history one day. He is going to take away all the
scaffolding and covers, and then the principalities and powers will see
the wisdom of God. And where will they see that wisdom? In the Church! God
will say, 'Look at that! Do you see? That is My masterpiece.' When the Church
is completed, God will ring down the curtain on history and pronounce it
at an end, and then He will reveal the construction of His redeemed humanity.
When he was head of the B.B.C. Lord Reith went one day to visit a group
of young avantguard intellectuals and, when he asked them what was the point
of the programme, they replied, 'Well, we are preparing a programme under
the general theme of giving the Christian [25/26]
Church a decent burial.' And Lord Reith, looking down from under those
fierce and craggy eyebrows of his and standing up to his full six-foot-six,
said to those planners, 'Young men, the Church of Jesus Christ will stand
at the grave of the B.B.C.!' And so it will. And at the grave of every other
merely human institution.
6. The Unity of the Church (Verses 10-17)
The apostle now turns from thanksgiving and assurance to exhortation,
"Now I beseech you, brethren ... that ye be perfected together in the same
mind ...". This is an appeal for spiritual unity. We need to distinguish
some different words in this connection, words such as unity, union, uniformity
and unanimity. Unity is not the same thing as uniformity for, on the contrary,
Scripture tells us that unity can co-exist with diversity. Nor is unity the
same as union, for union can be created by men, it can even be forced, but
unity is created by God.
In verse 10 Paul does emphasise that one of the essentials of unity is
unanimity regarding the truth -- "that ye be perfected together in the same
mind and thought". The only basis of Christian unity is that of apostolic
doctrine. Nowadays there is much talk about the scandal of our divisions;
the real scandal, though, is not that we do not all worship in the same
way or place, or belong to the same organization, or share the same view
of Church government, nor that we do not have the same concept of ministry,
but that we do not all preach the same message. So far as Christ Himself
is concerned we ought all to be saying the same thing.
If the first ground of unity is apostolic truth, the second is easy to
miss; it is found in Paul's mode of address: "I beseech you, brothers
...". Now for Paul the word 'brother' is not just a convenient way of
addressing somebody whose name you have forgotten, but it is a theological
concept emerging from the doctrine of regeneration. It tells us what God
has done to make us members of the family of Christian brotherhood.
The third ground is very significant: it is God centredness. "One of
you says, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos ..." (v.12). Whatever the distinctive
features of these different groups were is not really important; the significant
trouble was that into the Church of Jesus Christ there were being introduced
divisions which were due to man-centredness. Paul concludes this passage
by telling us that there are three things which bear witness against such
i. The Nature of Christ.
"Is Christ divided?" This was the implication of their position and the
whole idea is preposterous. It follows, therefore, that Christians of the
same body of Christ may not be divided from each other.
ii. The Nature of the Atonement.
"Was Paul crucified for you?" Of course he was not. In His atoning death
it was the Lord Jesus who stood condemned in our place. He it is who has
purchased us by His blood. How then can we say that we belong to Paul or to
any other man?
iii. The Nature of Baptism.
In baptism we are baptised into the name of Christ. Baptism therefore
becomes a symbol of our union with Him, and consequently of our unity with
one another. "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5). Astonishingly
they were making baptism a cause of division instead of unity, and doing
so by maximising what God minimises, for example, the issue of who baptized
them. 'Paul baptized me' cried some, 'and therefore I am on a higher level
than others.' 'Ah, but Peter baptized me', argued others. To Paul the matter
of who baptized whom was so unimportant that he could not begin to remember
who it was that he had baptized. 'Probably I baptized one or two of you',
he commented, 'but it escapes my mind. And thank God for that! It is of no
importance at all.'
There is something else that is vital, and that is true spiritual unity.
Someone has given the following description of that unity. It is with:
All wills bowing in the same direction,
All affections burning with the same flame,
All aims directed to the same end.
And that end is the glory of praise of God. May God increasingly make
His Church to be so centred.
(To be continued) [26/27]
TRUTH AND LIFE
J. Alec Motyer
3. WORKING WITH THE TRUTH -- 3 JOHN
WE come now to the other brief Epistle which reads as being sent by "The
Elder" to the beloved Gaius who walked in the truth. In it we shall find
mention also of Diotrephes and Demetrius. We do not know who any of these
men were -- nobody knows -- but we may surely expect to learn lessons of the
Truth from this Spirit-inspired Letter.
A Fellowship of Love
Christians, so it seems, belong to a fellowship of love. This fact comes
shining out of the Letter. We read the word 'beloved' and find that it speaks
in loving terms of 'brethren' and 'children' and 'friends', words which constitute
the main vocabulary of the Letter. Christians belong to a family. Those
who are of the same age group in the Church are brothers and sisters to
each other: "I rejoice greatly as brothers kept coming and bearing
witness" (v.3); "You do a faithful work whatever you do towards them who are
brothers " (v.5); "neither does he himself receive the brothers
Christians who belong to different age groups are 'fathers' and 'children'
to each other. And so we read: "Greater joy have I none than the joys that
come to me this way, to hear of my own children ..." (v.4). I wonder
if the Elder had led Gaius to the Lord, so becoming father to him in that
sense. It could have been. We are not sure of that. All we are told and all
we can surmise from this lovely little letter is that an older man is writing
to a younger man whom he is undertaking to advise in the Lord, and he calls
him 'my own child'. I venture to put in the translation this word 'own',
because it seems to me to reflect the true sense of the Greek which suggests
not just 'my children' but 'my very own children'. Christians belong in a
fellowship of love which is a family love.
They are bound together, however, not just by a formal relationship in
that because they have the same Father they are therefore brothers and sisters,
but they are to have the actual sensation of family feeling. There is something
in this Letter which does not occur anywhere else in the Bible in this direct
way, in that Christians are called 'friends'. It comes at the end of the
Letter: "The friends greet you. Salute the friends by name" (v.15). This is
spoilt by some translators who try to embellish it by saying 'the friends
here' and 'the friends there'. I could wish that translators would mind their
own business, and not insert words which the Holy Spirit did not think were
necessary! "The friends". That is what they are. They are bound together in
a relationship of actual affection for each other. They belong to a fellowship
Love in Action
When we come to the heart of this theme of Christian love, we come to
this word 'beloved'. Gaius comes before us as the essentially loveable person,
the plainly loveable man. The truth which emerges is that a true Christian
is a loveable person who by his very nature attracts the love of other people
who find it not only obvious but easy to love. "The Elder unto the beloved
Gaius". Who loves him? Well again, in some translations you will read
'my dear friend Gaius', but that is not what the Greek says -- it just says
'the beloved'. 'Oh yes, I love him, but I am not alone in loving him. I have
brethren coming to me (v.3) and they all love him. I look back into the
past and I notice not just one person coming, but [27/28]
people coming in groups, and not just one group, but group after group
keep coming, and they all witness that Gaius is a splendid person whom they
have come to love.' He is the beloved man. And every Christian should covet
to be a Gaius, a plainly and easily loveable person. Here it is again in verse
2, verse 5 and again in verse 11, the beloved man. The characteristic feature
of every individual Christian within the fellowship of love is that other
people find it so easy to love him -- easy to say but challenging to contemplate.
We are told two things about this plainly loveable man, Gaius. All sorts
of other things may flow from them but the two main things are stated in
parallel expressions: "brethren kept coming and bearing witness of your truth"
(v.3) and "they bore witness of your love" (v.6). The first outstanding characteristic
of him is that he is in full possession of the truth and has made it his
own. So, in the bluntness of the original Greek, "they have borne witness
to your truth." This, of course, did not mean that it was a truth
which he had invented, but a truth which he held and had made his very own.
The second is that he was one who fully practised love and made it his outstanding
characteristic. They came back and spoke to others about Gaius that love
was the hall-mark of the whole manner of his life.
And this was love in action. "Beloved, you are doing a faithful
work in whatever you do ..." (v.5). It was a love which concentrated
on doing, not a love that waited for feeling. I do not want to do Gaius
the injustice of suggesting that he lacked feeling. I can well believe that
his heart was animated by the warmest and most loveable sentiments towards
all who came to him; but we are not told that. What we are told is that his
love showed itself by what he did, it was love in action. In verses 5 to
8 I find at least eight aspects of the outworking of love:
"you are doing a faithful work" (v.5). You do that which is consonant
with your position as a believer. In loving the brethren you are living out
the life of faith as it should be lived.
"whatever you do to them that are brethren, indeed strangers" (v.5).
His acts of love were animated by oneness. He did not say that because he
did not know them he would not help them, but treated them as brothers who
should be helped. His loving actions were animated, not by what he felt
about these people, but by what he knew to be true about them. When they
knocked at his door, never having been there before, he responded in love
since they bore the marks of being brothers in Christ.
"whom you will do well (or beautifully) to set forward" ... (v.6). What
this amounts to is 'you will act with all the loveliness of goodness'. Now
I am not offering this as a translation, for that would be to fall into the
translators' error of putting down as Bible truth what I wished they were.
But it is the word 'beautiful' which guides me. It is in fact used in the
New Testament as a parallel to the word 'good', but it brings out the beauty
of goodness. This leads me to talk of a beautiful good turn and to say that
Gaius was animated by a desire to do that which was good.
4. Worthy of God
"you do well to set forward on their journey worthily of God" (v.6).
The love of Gaius was based upon knowledge, knowledge of what God is like.
It seems to me that in this context, to act worthily of God could be considered
in two ways. Firstly, you know what you would do if it were God Himself who
stood on your doorstep. Suppose that instead of some travelling brother in
Christ, it was Jesus Himself who stood there: what would you do for Him?
Why, you would certainly act in a worthy manner towards Him! Well, then, do
the same for your Christian brother and so act worthily of God. The other
meaning is to ask what you would expect to happen if you were at the door
and it was the Lord Jesus who opened it to you. What would He do? How would
He show His love? Surely in a manner worthy of God. Then insofar as it lies
in you, copy what Jesus would do if He were in your place.
The love of Gaius was animated by a recognition of the devotion which
these visitors were displaying: "You will do well to set them forward ...
because that for his name's sake they went forth" (v.7). What was it that
got them out of their comfortable homes and set them out on a journey? It
was because they loved the name of the Lord Jesus. There is a real clue for
us in this. It was not for nothing that the joking Antiochians began to
call the disciples Christians; it was because these believers did not spend
their time talking about God, but rather about Jesus who was called the
Christ; they loved His name. I don't believe in talking to people about God.
The term God is much too vague and undefined a word; it is used by too many
people and with too many different meanings. We should be known for our
love of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was for the sake of His name
that they journeyed, so Gaius reasoned that since they loved the name that
he loved and were devoted to the same Lord, his love for them must spur
him on to action.
6. Financial principle
"... taking nothing of the Gentiles" (v.7). This, I imagine, does not
mean that they would never accept help from outsiders, but it does mean that
they would never ask people of the world for financial help. They would not,
as a matter of policy, seek their support from the heathen and they did
not, as a matter of fact, receive support from them. This is very proper
as a matter of financial policy, and it governed the behaviour of Gaius towards
7. An Obligation
"we therefore ought ..." (v.8). Gaius recognised that this placed a distinct
obligation upon them. Since these Christian brothers, going out in the Lord's
work for the sake of the name, had made it a correct and resolute matter
of financial policy not to seek help from those who were not Christians, it
was up to him and his fellow-believers to look after them. "We ought ...".
The word that we ought to support such has two meanings. It means
both to take in and to undertake for. It has both the meaning of welcome and
also of supporting. We ought to welcome them into our midst and then to support
them as they go out to their work. This is our obligation, consequent on
the correct principle of keeping the Church as pure in its money as it is
to be in its doctrine and its life.
"in order that we may show and prove ourselves to be fellow-workers with
the truth" (v.8). While some translators render this "fellow-workers
for the truth", the identical form of words is used only in one other
place in the New Testament, and this supports the rendering, 'with
the truth." We are to work alongside the truth as it goes to work. Twice
in this Letter, the Elder personifies the idea of Truth. Truth is going out,
the Truth about Jesus. It is going out into the work in its great God-given
exercise of winning the world for Christ. Are we going to identify with it
and be fellow-workers with it? Or not?
These then are the eight facts about the lovely man Gaius, as he set
out to practise a doing-love towards all those believers who came to him.
Christians belong to a fellowship of love and it is incumbent upon every
individual Christian to covet to be a Gaius, to be a plainly loveable person.
Love Under Threat
Now we come in this Letter to a very different character. Diotrephes
(v.9). Diotrephes brings before us the truth, that the fellowship of love,
the Church, comes under threat if leadership is abused. Structures matter;
they either contribute values or militate against them. If leadership is
abused, then fellowship of love comes under threat. This is the particular
emphasis of 3 John. In 2 John the threat for the Church was in the realm
of doctrine; there, as you remember, we had people going forward, getting
ahead of established, given, Christian truth, particularly in the matter
of the Incarnation, the reality of Christ Jesus who is God and Man. They
were going beyond this mysterious but plain New Testament doctrine of the
incarnate Lord, no longer wishing to confess that Jesus is the Christ come
in the flesh, the Son of God and the true Man. That brought a danger to
the Church because, even [29/30] if such people
were tolerated, then the fellowship of the Church would break down. There
was therefore a necessity that those who hold the truth should hold aloof
from apparent Christian leaders who defiled this central truth.
In John's third Epistle, however, the challenge and the threat is not
in the realm of doctrine, but in the realm of authority. When authority is
abused, this works for the destruction of the fellowship of love. In the
case of Diotrephes, authority was abused in three ways: the three key words
are, prominence, truth and dictatorial leadership. "he loves to have the
preeminence" gives us a word that is only used here in the New Testament --
he loves to be out front! It is one thing to be in the limelight, nobody who
is a leader can avoid that, but it is quite a different thing to love the
limelight, and quite a different thing again to hog the limelight. Diotrephes
went beyond that which is inevitably true of a leader, to be in an exposed
public position, taking up and practising a love of being in the public eye
and then carrying that forward in a refusal to let anybody share his prominence.
As I have said, it is bad enough to love the limelight but it is very much
worse to hog that limelight.
In contrast with the experience and example of Diotrephes, I would draw
your attention to Paul's opening words in his letter to the Philippians:
"... to the saints with the overseers and deacons." It is quite wonderful,
though possibly unnoticed by most, that he used the preposition 'with' in
his reference to Christian leadership. 'With' is a key word in this connection.
Christian leadership is not from out front, calling people to follow, nor
is it from behind, shouting at folk to go forward; it is a leadership from
alongside. They are to be 'with' the others. Diotrephes had very different
ideas; he loved the preeminence.
Not only that, he refused the truth. He refused the truth as it affected
speech, and he refused it as it governed fellowship. The Elder says, 'I wrote
something to the Church but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence,
does not receive us." We do not know who the Elder was; he may well have
been the apostle John, but if he conceals his identity, who are we to try
to identify him? We know that he had divine authority, for his Letter is given
a place in the Bible. By hindsight we know that he was a man of divine inspiration.
Diotrephes, however, would not have him; he would not submit to the given
truth of revelation, and would not submit his tongue either. "I will bring
to remembrance the works which he does, denigrating us with malicious gossip."
He sought to have personal security at the expense of the truth.
Moreover he refused to live in the fellowship of the truth. Not content
with his spoken defamation, he would not receive the brethren. According
to Christian verity these brethren belonged to the people who are one in
Christ. That was the truth about them, but Diotrephes would not have them,
and cast out of the Church those who had fellowship with them. His departure
from the truth had been a departure into dictatorship. Where such men reign
supreme it is they and not the truth which governs decisions. When we get
to heaven we will have the immense blessing of being under a dictatorship.
There will be no democracy there. Democracy is not a heavenly idea; it will
have no place there for there will be no committees, no panels, no enquiries,
no reporting back after three years. Heaven will be a gorgeous dictatorship
because at last One is found who is worthy to be Dictator, and we will all
be liberated because we will be living under Him whose right it is to reign.
In the meantime, however, there is no room for dictators in the Church of
God. If you look around you will observe that any such attempt at human dictatorship
causes distress and a departure from Christian love. No, no! In the Church
it is the Truth which dictates the leaders, not the leaders who dictate the
The Plain Evidence of Moral Goodness
"Beloved, imitate not that which is evil, but that which is good. He
that does good is from God; he that does evil has not seen God" (v.11).
The Elder goes on to say, "Demetrius has the witness of all and of the truth
itself." I think that perhaps Gaius is being warned by the Elder against
the vice that could accompany his virtue. The Bible shows that so often men's
virtues have their characteristic vice. David's great virtue was that he
loved the Lord with all his heart; his vice was that he was able to love
Bathsheba as well. Every great man in the Bible is seen to have the fault
that goes along with his virtue.
Dear Gaius was such a gorgeously amenable Christian. When a traveling
Christian evangelist came and knocked at his door, he would welcome him warmly
and would do anything for him. [30/31] However what
can easily be the weakness of that kind of character is that it can easily
be misled and come to accommodate the wrong man. For this reason the Elder,
in his loving and careful way, felt that he must warn this child of his not
to be led astray. 'Don't imitate that which is evil' he advised. 'Don't be
led into thinking that Diotrephes has anything to contribute to you. Watch
In giving this warning, however, he lays bare the spiritual reality which
belongs to every Christian, namely, that he derives his new life from God:
"He that doeth good is of God." The true Christian is 'from God'; this is
the truth of regeneration, birth from above with the gift of a new nature.
The further truth about every Christian is that he has 'seen God'. This is
not referring to a vision of God but meaning that he has had a personal experience
of God. So new life comes flooding in from God and the soul who was dead
in trespasses and sins is now alive from God and able to enter into the conscious
experience of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and
the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Now how does this new life express itself? It shows in holiness; it shows
in moral goodness: "He that doeth good is from God." Why does Demetrius come
in here? We don't know; we don't even know who he was. Come to that we do
not know who any of these men were -- Gaius, Diotrephes and Demetrius. I
have a fancy that he was the man who carried the Letter from the Elder to
Gaius, which would explain the accompanying word of commendation. Gaius can
trust Demetrius. He has the witness of all and of the Truth itself. Once again
Truth is personified, as it stands in the Church to judge the reality of
individual Christians. Demetrius passes the test.
Gaius possessed the truth: "they bore witness to your truth" (v.3).
The truth possessed Demetrius: he had witness borne to him by the truth"
(v.12). It was because these men were dominated by the truth that all the
grace of God was seen in them and made them loveable people in the fellowship
(To be concluded)
THE SPIRIT IN ROMANS 8
2. THE SPIRIT OF ADOPTION (Verses 12-17)
Editor's Note: In this article Mr. Wilcock makes use of the word 'adoption'
since it is the usual way in which this word 'sonship' is translated.
AT the heart of this passage we find that the Holy Spirit is called The
Spirit of Adoption (v.15). Three verses lead up to this and three more follow
from it. Verses 12, 13 and 14 are about general Christian Practice and verses
15, 16 and 17 about Christian Sonship. At the centre, in verse 15, we are
told that the Holy Spirit's work is connected with what is called Adoption.
May I suggest that the gist of this whole passage can be summed up in
a single command. The actual words do not appear in Scripture, but the spirit
of the command is often there. It is a command to be what you are. Of course
you may argue that you can only be what you are, but this comes as a command.
You are to be what in God's sight you are. There are many statements
in Scripture as to what believers are, and these always carry the exhortation
to live this out. What God has made us to be in Christ, we must learn to
work out in daily life. These verses carry a close sequence of thought, as
Paul's doctrines always do, so they require sanctified concentration. In this
spirit we will try to find out the sequence of his teaching, noticing that
in each of these three verses Paul states what a Christian is, and then argues
with a description of how he should prove that in his way of living.
1. Debtors to the Spirit
"So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after
the flesh" Verse 12.
If you are a Christian, you are not under any obligation to live after
the flesh. This is a statement, and the implication is that you must work
this out by not living according to the flesh. The [31/32]
apostle does not actually fill this out, but if he had done so he would
have argued that you are a debtor to the Spirit, under an obligation to live
according to the Spirit. That is the obvious corollary, the other side of
the coin. What is a Christian? Someone who is under no obligation to live
according to the old nature, but who is a debtor to the Spirit to live according
to Him. The point to note, and I shall keep stressing it, is that what the
Christian is, is inseparable from the way the Christian lives. It ought
not to be possible to imagine a Christian being something and yet not actually
living up to it. Put the other way round, we cannot imagine a Christian
living a certain kind of life without actually being a certain kind of person.
2. Mortifying by the Spirit
"For if you live after the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit
you mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live" Verse 13.
If you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. I am reminded
of the old days of the Roman Empire when gladiators went to fight one another
to the death; before the fights they would cry to the Emperor: "Morituri
te salutant" -- Those who are about to die salute you! They knew that
at least half of their number would never emerge from that arena alive. They
were going to die. And if you live according to the flesh, you are those
who are going to die. The two things are inseparable.
We are surrounded by millions of people who spiritually are going to
die; they are the morituri, the reason being that the kind of life
they lead is according to the flesh. Conversely, however, you are not going
to die, but to be among the survivors, if by the Spirit you put to death
the deeds of the body. You cannot separate the two things. If that is what
you are, that is the way you will live.
3. Led by the Spirit
"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God
" Verse 14.
Here we have a similar pairing up. What are you? A son of God. How therefore
do you live? You live day by day as being led by the Spirit of God. You must
practise what you are in your daily living. There is a sense in which you
cannot have Jesus as Saviour without also having Him as Lord; you cannot
have Him as your Saviour from sin without also acknowledging His lordship
over your way of life. The two must go together.
I am not speaking about being 'led' in a kind of mystical intuition and
prompting to this or that activity, but of a perfectly practical, down-to-earth
obedience. To be led by the Spirit means that you listen to what the Spirit
is telling you to do, not by some inward feeling only, for the Spirit speaks
to you day by day in the pages of Scripture. Through the Word of God the
Spirit is speaking in all sorts of ways, and the sons of God are those who
in practice are being led by the Spirit of God as He speaks through the Scriptures.
And so we are brought to the great central thought of this passage for,
as soon as the apostle has said that those who are led by the Spirit of God
are sons of God, he passes to the utterance of the great words, 'The Spirit
of Adoption'. We come on to this great phrase in verse 15 but, before we
do that, I want to go over the first half of the passage once more.
May I seek to emphasise the clear distinction between a Christian and
an unbeliever. We have already seen here in Romans 8 that Paul is as keen
as John to affirm that underneath the surface there is a great separation
between those who belong to Christ and those who do not. We tend to think
that it is only John who, in his inspired writings, always talks in black
and white terms, being stark in his descriptions of spiritual truths, with
his either light or darkness, life or death, and admitting of no middle ground.
But Paul says the same here. In these verses he speaks of a single division
between the two halves of humanity; there are those who are of the flesh's
mind and those who are of the Spirit's mind. There is a complete polarizing
between the two; either you are in the flesh or in the Spirit. This is not
always clear to us, but God knows, and in His mind He clearly distinguishes.
In a sense there is 'a great gulf fixed', not just in the world to come but
here and now. Mercifully in one direction people may still move, for they
cross over that gulf by changing from unbelievers to believers. The positions,
however, are fixed. Everyone is either a debtor to the flesh or a debtor
to the Spirit. Everyone is either on the way to death or on the way to glory.
Everyone is either led by the Spirit of God or not so led. Everyone is either
a son or daughter of God or not born of God at all. [32/33]
And each works out this distinction in his life; the Christian being
bonded to what a Christian does and the unbeliever bonded to what an unbeliever
does. The Christian is a Spirit-person and therefore lives a Spirit kind of
life. He often regrets his failures and knows that much of his life is unworthy
of his high calling; nevertheless the whole tenor of his life and the deepest
desire of his heart is outwardly to live out in practice what he is in fact.
On the other side of the great divide we have the unbeliever who lives
according to the flesh and who is going to die, and that in spite of the
good things he sometimes does. People will say that there are lots of good
people around outside the Church who are sometimes better than those inside,
and this may be true. C. S. Lewis once explained that he used to have a terrier
called Tim who was a great character of a dog. Lewis said that he never
actually obeyed you, though sometimes he agreed with you! Similarly there
are many people who live quite a lot of their lives in agreement with God,
not because they wish to obey Him but just because it happens that they
want to act in that way. The heart and core of their life is not a wish
to obey God; they may in fact be rebels against Him and if it were argued
that they were actually doing the commands of God might well retort: 'But
I don't want to obey God. What I do is for quite other reasons. I have no
intention of being in bondage to this Christian God of yours.'
We have to accept this as a fact, but for ourselves we must practise
it as an obligation to all who are in Christ. We are quite different from
the unbelieving world and must live out what we are. It is said that when
our present Queen and her sister, Princess Margaret, were small children
and going off to a party one day, the Queen Mother admonished them: 'Now
remember girls -- royal children, royal manners!' We must be what we are.
What we are is sons, and the reason we know we are sons is because we
have received the Spirit of Adoption. We have now reached verse 15, the verse
in which the Holy Spirit is given that great title. The Spirit who leads
us in the practice of the Christian life is also the Spirit who teaches us
about Christian sonship. May I say that of course the term 'sons' also includes
daughters. When we talk about 'man' we are using the Scriptural allusion
to humanity, not in any distinction of the sexes but simply as God's offspring,
except that with Paul there may be a distinction between children and sons,
though we are not dealing with that subject here. We notice the special
emphasis of the following three verses:
1. We speak to God as our Father
"Ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear; but ye received
the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father" Verse 15.
The Spirit of Adoption which enables us to speak to God as our Father
is the very opposite of the spirit of enslavement again to fear. As we read
in verse 2, the Spirit of life has set us free, so now we are told that the
same Spirit has brought us into the sonship which enables us to speak to our
God as "Abba, my Father". Imagine a great household of former times, with
an 'upstairs' and a 'downstairs', one set of people in the best rooms and
another, the staff, in the kitchen and the sculleries. Now there was only
one system in that household, but the way in which it was regarded varied
according to where you were in relation to the stairs. If you were up aloft,
it looked like one thing; if you were down below it looked quite different.
Now in many ways this was a bad system, so the picture is not a good
one, but it does make a point by contrasting a spirit of enslavement back
into fear in which it was woe betide you if you did not keep the rules,
with a family relationship with the liberty of the home. What the Spirit
of Adoption has done for ever Christian is to bring him into the family.
He no longer looks at life as a slave does, always under threat, but as
a son he affirms, 'This is my home. I belong here. This is my father's house
and he loves me and provides for me in everything.' By the Spirit of Adoption
we can cry, 'He is my Father, His house is my home and that is where I belong.'
2. The Assurance of Belonging
"The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children
of God". Verse 16.
The RSV suggests that when we cry Abba, Father, that means that the Spirit
is witnessing to our relationship the moment we become Christians and can
meaningfully so pray.
Such an interpretation suggests that the very fact that we can truly
say, Our Father, is the work of the Spirit bearing witness that we are
[33/34] children of God. There is another extreme, described at
great length by Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, which makes this witness to be an
experience after conversion, that is, a separate, subsequent experience,
as though he is first converted and becomes a child of God and then later
has this occasion when something happens to him which is described as the
Spirit bearing witness with his spirit. For my part I believe that the truth
lies somewhere between these two extremes.
The Spirit of God is the Spirit of truth. As such He works in all sorts
of ways. Concerning his first visit to the Thessalonians, Paul writes: "Our
gospel came to you not only in word but also in power and in the Holy Spirit
and in full conviction." When the Thessalonians first heard the gospel and
responded by believing and becoming Christians, it was because the Holy Spirit
bore witness to the truth when they were converted. This seems to mean that
at their conversion, the Spirit witnessed to them that they were children
of God. On the other hand John writes: "All who keep his commandments abide
in him and he in them, and by this we know that he abides in us, by the
Spirit which he has given us" (1 John 3:24).
So, when I first respond to the gospel, the Spirit bears witness with
my spirit that I am a child of God, as happened to the Thessalonians, but
also, as I go on in the Christian life and begin to keep the Lord's commandments,
I find at the end of the day -- maybe to my astonishment -- a new sense of
the Lord abiding in me, and it is the Spirit who gives that conviction to
me. As day by day I am enabled to keep God's commandments, the Spirit keeps
witnessing in me. Bit by bit the fruit of the Spirit is found in me, though
I may be less aware of this than other people, the Spirit bears witness with
my spirit that I really am a child of God. This happens at the beginning
and then all along the line.
3. The Assurance of Glory
"If children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ;
if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him
" Verse 17.
Now if I am not only a child but also an heir, it leads me to look forward
to my inheritance. Normally, of course, an inheritance involves the death
of somebody well off. It may of course be argued that somebody did die, and
that it was Christ who died. This thought here, however, is not quite in
accord with the passage in Hebrews 9, for here Paul is not stressing the fact
of someone dying but rather that Christ is the heir and we inherit with Him.
What the apostle is stressing is that there will be a future day when the
heirs will enter into their inheritance, as it might be when a youngster has
to wait for his 2lst birthday for what is coming to him. Then he will inherit,
for he will have reached his majority.
So it is that Paul means that there is an inheritance waiting for us
when we arrive at a certain date. We do not know when that date will be,
but the inheritance is certain when we come of age. This life, which in
so many ways is a life of suffering for the true Christian, will be replaced
by a life of glory. As the Lord Jesus said to His followers: "Ought not
the Christ to have suffered and to enter into his glory". He now calls us
to suffer with Him, knowing that this is the basic pattern, the pattern through
which we also must pass, with the assurance that the day will come when we
move out of this life of suffering into the life of glory.
It is the Spirit of Adoption who teaches us that. He says, 'Listen! First
of all, God is your Father.' Then He says, 'Listen! That means that you are
His child.' Then He says, 'Listen! That means that one day you are going
to enter into His inheritance.' And as we start to consider the glory that
is yet to be, we must pass into our next study.
(To be continued) [34/35]
LIFE IN THE HEAVENLIES
(The Epistle to the Ephesians)
2. PURPOSE IN THE HEAVENLIES (1:1-14)
PAUL was not only a Bible teacher, he was a sensitive man who could suffer
with the rest of us. Like some of his predecessors in the prophetic ministry,
he could have wondered how to reconcile his personal circumstances with his
teaching concerning the sovereignty of God. Here he was, a helpless prisoner
(3:1 & 4:1), deprived of the active life of service for God to which
he had been called and in which he had previously been greatly used, and
with no sign that the prayers for his liberation were being answered. His
was no momentary inactivity; it had begun a long time ago when he insisted
on going up to Jerusalem. He had spent some years in detention in Caesarea,
had been forced to appeal to Caesar and was now held in Rome in what must
have seemed like a cruel trap. Probably in fetters and certainly hemmed in
by four walls, his human prospects were apparently nil. What did it all mean?
What was God doing, if He were doing anything? Should he, like Elijah under
the juniper tree, cry out that he had had enough? Those who, for various
reasons, find themselves in similar painful limitations and disappointments,
will appreciate what he might have felt.
The fact is, though, that his prison epistles disclose that he did not
feel like this at all, and there is one simple explanation which is also
true of every one of us, and that is that he found his home "in the heavenlies,
in Christ Jesus." And in those realms one of the dominant truths which explain
everything is found in the word 'purpose'. The apostle was able to see through
those encircling walls and to look back to what we must call past eternity
and to divine activities before there was any world, and also to look on
to what, for lack of a better term, we call eternity future. Such vision made
it clear that all things began with God's settled plan and will eventuate
with the perfect fulfilment of that plan. How then could Paul sit and fret
about the little matter of God's purpose in his own affairs when he had discovered
that he had a place -- dare I say, a central place? -- in God's eternal
purpose for the whole universe, and that not because he was an apostle but
because, like the rest of us, he was called a saint and knew himself to
be a true believer, one of the faithful in Christ Jesus.
For, strange and incomprehensible as it may seem, we who are saints and
believers, not only in Ephesus but everywhere else (v.1) are totally involved
in the greatest enterprise that could ever be, one which is central not only
to God's thinking but to His loving. These opening verses of the Letter comprise
one breathless, non-stop sentence of praise to the Father, beginning with
His original desires and decision and coming right down to our own personal
act of faith which He sealed by His Holy Spirit. The first and final cause
of everything is His will. We have already remarked on the three-fold end
in view -- the praise of His glory -- and now we note a three-fold reference
to the will which produces this marvellous objective.
1. Sonship by the Will of God
"Having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ
unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will ..." (v.5).
He chose to have us as His sons. Far from being cold or despotic, His
will is the expression of His love. He is not only Creator but also Father,
and in this capacity He finds supreme delight in His children whom He has
begotten by the Spirit and predestined to be publicly recognised by the whole
universe as His privileged sons. [35/36]
We know how God twice voiced from heaven His deep satisfaction with the
Lord Jesus. At the Jordan His voice exclaimed: "This is my beloved Son, in
whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17). I tend to associate this expression
of the Father's pleasure with the thirty hidden years of the life in Nazareth.
Doubtless it relates very definitely to His act of being baptised and so
declaring His acceptance of the cross, but may it not also be regarded as
a sheer expression of the Father's delight that now at last He had a human
Son of whom He could be proud? That was a new experience for God. The version
in Mark and Luke make the matter intimately personal: "Thou art ...",
as if it represented His appreciation of the filial devotion to the Father's
affairs which marked every thought and action of Jesus (Luke 2:49). Matthew,
however, used the general proclamation: "This is ..." , as though drawing
attention of all to the perfection of this beloved Son of His. This same
more general approval was voiced on the Mount of Transfiguration where again
reference was made to Christ's approaching sacrificial death, but perhaps
it was also a tribute to the sustained perfection of His life of public ministry.
It seems to me that the great point of this heavenly acclamation was the delight
in the Son as a Son. Here was the Man whom the Father had always longed
for, the Son of Man who would for ever be to the praise of the Father's glory.
We are now told of another joy which awaits the Father. Peter calls it
"The Day of God" (2 Peter 3:12). The tremendous fact is that God's eternal
purpose is that redeemed sinners shall share in the eternal vocation of
the Son and become joint heirs with Jesus Christ. It was not enough for
the incarnate Son to satisfy the Father's heart: by His death He must bring
many sons to glory too. The Day is coming when the exceeding riches of His
grace will have provided Him with many sons who will give Him the same pleasure,
for they are to be made fully Christlike. That will be the destiny of those
who have been redeemed by the blood of the Son and sealed by the work of
the Spirit and it will minister satisfaction to the heart of the Father.
We used to sing, Oh that will be glory for me, and that is true enough,
but here we are confronted by a nobler truth, namely, That will be glory
for Him! Through all eternity, this redeemed family of the Father will only
live to be "to the praise of his glory."
2. The Mystery of the Will of God
"having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his
good pleasure" (v.9).
The apostle rightly describes God's will as a secret, known only when
He sees fit to disclose it. It is an open secret to all Spirit-enlightened
believers, and yet it is so profound and divine that even while Paul wrote
about it, he had to pray that the Spirit would enable his readers to grasp
its true implications.
It is based upon God's wisdom and prudence (v.9). Every human plan demands
thought as well as desire; how much more must this be true of God's master-plan
which we are now considering? Nevertheless, however able a human planner
may be, it is sometimes difficult and even impossible, for him to convey its
full import to others. In this case, however, the Father is in the happy position
of being able to entrust His own Spirit of wisdom to explain it to us. He
who planned with wisdom and insight will now give His own "Spirit of wisdom
and revelation" in answer to believing prayer (v.17).
It was at this point that the matter of redemption had to be introduced
(v.7). From before the foundation of the world, full provision had been made
for the implementation of this heart-purpose of the Father. The Son was
to be the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15) for, even at his best,
Adam was only "a figure of him that was to come" (Romans 5:14), but because
of sin, this same Son was to shed His precious blood to bring the family
into being. When we come to Chapter 5 we will be reminded that Christ gave
Himself up on the cross to purchase the Church (5:25). There was no other
way, nor was any other ever contemplated in the eternal counsels of the God-head.
At the end of the chapter the apostle comments: "This mystery is profound"
(5:32). It is indeed.
It is significant that the stress of the teaching concerning election
and predestination is directed towards this ultimate intention of God. It
is true that only sovereign grace could bring a believer to the initial act
of faith unto salvation, but we misunderstand the whole conception of electing
[36/37] grace if we think only of some being chosen
to be forgiven and others not so chosen. The real Bible emphasis on divine
election is concerned with the ultimate end in view, which is here described.
It is not only that we might have deliverance from despair but that we might
inherit a hope; not just in what will happen to us, but rather in what we
may become: "To the end that we should be to the praise of his glory"
In Himself only Christ, the eternal Son of the Father, is perfect in
holiness, but the fixed intention of the Father is that in Christ we too
may be holy and blameless before Him (v.4) and this is why in love He has
fore-ordained us to the full glories of sonship. Dear Christian, the Lord
did not choose and redeem you just to make you happy and safe but for much
more than that. He is the Father of glory (v.17) and His intention is to
surround Himself with a family of mature children who will display that
glory to the universe, and experience supreme pleasure in doing so.
3. The Spirit and the Will of God
"according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the
counsel of his will" (v.11).
When God is at work the operations are carried on by His Holy Spirit.
This is certainly true in the matter of the fulfilment of His eternal purpose
in Christ to which we are called. Everything for us is in the hands of the
Holy Spirit, who is supremely concerned in the work of conforming us to Christ.
Anyone who believes in God at all will readily agree that it is He who makes
things work and also that He is able to impose His will everywhere. Here,
however, we are informed what is the one objective towards which He is working;
it is the full possession of those whom He has purchased for Himself, namely,
a family of mature sons. His Spirit now provides an earnest, or foretaste,
of the sonship involved in this glorious family life, and all the time He
carries on His work in us with a view to the total fulfilment of God's eternal
Among the other special features of this Epistle to the Ephesians is
the surprising fact that in it no mention is made of the Second Advent.
I am not able to explain this omission, but I would offer the suggestion
that the event is implicit in the word which in most versions is translated
by the phrase 'adoption as sons' and in Romans 8:23 is placed as a future
event. The word is simply 'sonship', and in Galatians 4:5 is rendered 'the
full rights of sons' (NIV) or 'the status of sons' (NEB). In the R.S.V. verse
5 reads: "He destined us in love to be his sons". It is generally agreed that
the point at issue is a matter of public recognition.
If I may, I would like to suggest with all respect that the term 'adoption'
is open to misunderstanding in our society, since it implies a purely legal
transaction by which an outsider is given the status of a member of another
family than his own. We are not outsiders. We are properly born children
of the Father by the work of the Holy Spirit and in fact believers are often
described as 'children' in a word which undoubtedly refers to actual birth.
So whatever 'adoption' means, it cannot refer to the kind of arrangement
by which an artificial change is made from a natural relationship to a legal
one; it must be limited to those who are truly born of God. He is not our
adoptive Father (however appealing the idea may be in modern sentimental
terms), but He is our true Father, and we are in the heavenlies because we
were begotten by Him. Unlike childless parents here on earth, God does not
have to look for children to adopt, for He begets His own children by the
Holy Spirit and by His Word. We are actually called 'The church of the firstborn
ones' (Hebrews 12:23), and so have a first generation father/child relationship.
I fear that the A.V. obscures the difference of emphasis in the use of the
two words 'child' and 'son'. The former indicates our relationship while
the latter emphasises status or standing.
The word 'sonship' appears in relation to a future occasion, when it
speaks of the forth-coming public recognition of the sons of the Father
which will take place at the resurrection when Christ returns in glory:
"... waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body" (Romans
8:23). We are told that the whole creation is eagerly awaiting that revelation
of the sons of God. Perhaps I am right in suggesting that the lack of any
mention of the Second Coming in this Letter is covered by the allusion in
verse 14. [37/38]
In drawing attention to the use of the distinctive words 'children' and
'sons', I am not affirming that there is a division among Christians, as
if some have qualified for recognition as sons while others have not yet grown
up. This may in the end prove to be true -- I do not know -- and in some
sense it appears as a present state of affairs, but the Scriptures show that
the calling of every Christian is to be a son, and that the Spirit whom we
have all received is the Spirit of sonship (Galatians 4:6). Time alone will
show. But there is something lacking in our practical knowledge of the Fatherhood
of God if, in spite of our awareness of our shortcomings, we do not aspire
to be mature and well-pleasing to Him. This is our calling, and this must
be our prayer, that we may learn to live as responsible sons of our Father,
always keeping in mind the Scriptural declaration: "He that overcometh
shall inherit these things; and I will be his God and he shall be my son"
All that I have written is meant to assist us to appreciate the Spirit's
activities in working out all things after the counsel of God's will. From
the moment when He first sealed us, He has been dealing with us in the light
of our destiny of being fully constituted as God's firstborn sons. The Spirit
of new birth is called the Spirit of promise (verse 13). His presence in
our lives is both the seal and guarantee of our ultimate vocation and the
imparter to us now of its power and dignity. He keeps reminding us that we
are truly God's offspring (Romans 8:16); He enables us to pray as sons (Galatians
4:6) and He leads us as sons (Romans 8:14). He disciplines us as sons in order
to transform us into the likeness of God's only Son (Hebrews 12:9 & 2
Corinthians 3:18). One day He will complete the process by giving us bodies
like the glorious body of the risen and ascended Son. He keeps the eternal
purpose always in view and in this Scripture seeks to enlighten us as to
To live in the heavenlies is therefore to co-operate with the Spirit
in knowing and pursuing God's heart purpose. It means to be under the government
of the Spirit to this end. He it is who begins the task by making us the
children of the Father when we first received Christ as Saviour. He then goes
on with His work in and with us so that, when all things are summed up in
Christ, we will constitute God's inheritance, His own loved possession, "unto
the praise of his glory. As Paul's colleague Peter exclaimed: "What manner
of persons ought we to be in all holy living and godliness"!
(To be continued)
LESSONS FROM JOSHUA
IN the New Testament we are exhorted to share in suffering as good soldiers
of Jesus Christ. Joshua provides a good example for us, since this phrase,
'good soldier', describes his whole life from a young man to old age. The
first mention of him is when he was given the great responsibility of leading
Israel into battle and he was told that there would be more battles ahead
But he also fought another kind of battle. When Moses pitched a tent
of meeting outside the camp, his servant Joshua did not depart out of the
Tent. A good soldier does not flinch when the battle is on, but nor does
he neglect to seek God when there is no danger. We suffer most of our defeats
on the inner front, as we allow the enemy to tempt us away from personal
close contact with the Lord. No doubt this action of Joshua's made him the
more ready to triumph in faith when ten of his fellow spies reported that
it was impossible to enter the land.
We see, then, that this young man did not develop all at once, but grew
as he faced one test after another. Perhaps his most difficult test was that
of being just a servant; he had been in the limelight when he fought against
Amalek and was prominent with Caleb in resisting unbelief, and then he just
had to serve Moses day by day through the years. It is always easier to
give orders than to receive them, but for forty [38/39]
years Joshua served under orders from Moses. The good soldier of the
Lord Jesus needs spiritual character as well as spiritual equipment; his
first qualifications must be endurance, humility and conscientiousness.
The good fight is the fight of faith. This means that we must learn to
fight with quite different weapons from those which our carnal natures would
employ and above all we must listen to God. "Now it came to pass after the
death of Moses ... that the Lord spake unto Joshua" (Joshua 1:1). Moses
was dead, but the Lord never dies. Joshua was to die as we read at the end
of his book -- but the Lord never dies. We are grateful for those whom the
Lord raises up as leaders, but they all must disappear. The promises of
God, though, do not change or diminish with the passage of time. But in
addition to His promises, we must listen continually to His commands: "This
book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth ... that you may observe
to do according to all that is written therein" (1:8).
A good soldier of Jesus Christ makes obedience his first business. Joshua
had lots of things to attend to, his workload was enormous, but he was careful
to preserve unbroken his fellowship with God and he listened unceasingly
to God's speaking. He was different in many ways from the subsequent Judges,
for they were often only instruments which God used, but Joshua was a true
servant. He was also used, but as this happened he was changed and became
more and more like the One whom he served.
Did Joshua make use of God? No indeed! God does not allow Himself to
be used by us nor drawn into our human plans. When he asked the divine Man,
"Are you one of us or one of our enemies?", the answer came back, "Neither!"
(5:14). Joshua was made to know that the Lord really is LORD. Joshua had walked
with the Lord for forty years and had known many experiences of His power
and wonderful interventions, but when the Commander of God's army revealed
Himself, Joshua fell on his face, trembling and conscious of his own nothingness.
It is when the Lord in His grace reveals Himself that we appreciate what unworthy
and insignificant creatures we are, and yet we can respond to Him in total
confidence because He provides the holy ground of our true relationship with
According to John the victory which overcomes, or rather has overcome
, the world is our faith. Spiritual warfare is the same as obedience;
it is following the Lord. This was how the Lord Jesus fought His battles
and won His victories, by being obedient unto death. It was in this way
that Paul fought his battles. If you want to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ,
then obedience must be your weapon, and with this you are unconquerable. Lack
of obedience means sure defeat.
When God's people had gone over Jordan and encamped in Gilgal, Joshua
did what humanly speaking was a very foolish thing. There, in the shadow
of this strong enemy city, he deprived all his soldiers of their fighting
strength by having them circumcised. From a military point of view this was
great folly, for all his warriors were incapacitated for some days and could
have been incapable of resisting an attack. What use was a fighting force
deprived of its strength? The answer is, of course, that they were fighting
God's battles and had to do so in God's way. God held His hand upon Jericho
while Joshua's soldiers were incapacitated, and even when the battle came,
He did not need human wisdom or strength for the conquest of the city.
Joshua's subsequent orders seemed not only foolish but ridiculous; the
army had to walk round Jericho each day for six days. They may have been
mocked by its inhabitants, they may have felt foolish, but they walked round
in faith each day. I don't think that it got any easier as the days went
by, but it need not have become harder either, for they were waiting for
God's moment. Had they attacked, they might have been defeated, and certainly
many would have been killed and much confusion could have resulted, but when
the Sabbath came and they had completed their seventh circuit, the whole
city fell into their hands.
In our spiritual life we have to face impregnable areas but victory will
come as we follow the principles of faith here demonstrated, faith which
has neither wisdom nor strength of its own, but relies on and obeys God's
Word. We may know mountains of difficulties but we can face them with equanimity
if we remember the prophet's words: "Not by might, nor by power, but by My
Spirit ... the mountain shall become a plain" (Zechariah 4:6-7). We must
be careful not to be sidetracked by the modem emphasis on power. Spiritual
power is a great secret and cannot [39/40] be alienated
from the Lord Himself. Christ won His victory by going the way of the cross.
Spiritual warfare can only be waged in this way, but through the grace of
Christ we are called to share His victory.
One of the New Testament lessons concerning spiritual warfare may be
rather difficult to understand in practice; it is found in Paul's reminder
that "no soldier on active service entangleth himself in the affairs of this
life ..." (2 Timothy 2:4). This does not mean that he has no daily affairs
of this life to attend to, but it does insist that he should not allow himself
to be entangled in them in such a way that they govern his life so as to weaken
his relationship with the Lord.
From his youth Joshua was a man of prayer. He did not leave the Tent
(Exodus 33:11). Now even for a busy person, the right kind of prayerful
spirit can deliver from the wrong kind of entanglement. All who have some
experience know where the boundary lies between being faithful in one's
daily occupation and being governed by it, between doing the job and getting
entangled in it. However, this knowledge can be blunted if we neglect daily
intercourse with the Lord and sensitivity to Him. It is not easy but it is
possible to have the right priorities and to seek the kingdom of God first.
It is a great triumph when business people can do this. I am not sure that
it is any easier for those who are active as so-called fulltime workers,
since they have their own perils of being entangled in activities which
can hinder spiritual communion with the Lord.
It may be profitable to consider the spiritual implications for us of
the command that Jericho and its inhabitants should be destroyed: "The city
shall be devoted, even it and all that is therein, to the Lord; only Rahab
the harlot shall live ... and ye, in any wise keep yourselves from the devoted
thing, lest when ye have devoted it, ye take of the devoted thing; so should
ye make the camp of Israel accursed, and trouble it. But all the silver, and
gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are holy unto the Lord ..." (6:17-19).
It had taken four hundred years for their iniquity to be fully ripe, but
now this nation was quite ripe for judgment in the sight of God. So the judgment
came. What was more, though, the Israelites were not to take for themselves
any of the silver or gold or other valuables, but were to put them all in
the treasury of the Lord. What does this mean to us?
Is it not a part of this command that the soldier of Christ is to avoid
entanglement in the things of this life? What is more natural to us than
to take hold of personal gain in the things of the Lord? That way lies a snare
which we must avoid at all costs. Personal gain must never be allowed to
influence our service for the Lord, whether that gain is direct or indirect,
open or in secret. If we fail in this respect, we are defeated in advance.
This is not only a matter of finance, though it does include that, but a
larger realm of never allowing human values to motivate us in our service
for the Lord. What the eye can see, what the flesh can covet, what can minister
to our personal sense of importance or greatness; all this must be ruthlessly
rejected if we are to share Christ's spiritual victory. We may regard the
commandments of God to Joshua as fierce and extreme, but it is imperative
that we be high handed and extreme with ourselves if we are to be true to
We are given the tragic story of Achan to emphasise this truth to us.
He took of the devoted thing, hiding his action from others but not being
able to hide it from God, with disastrous results. No-one can fight the Lord's
battles successfully if he allows money or any other personal consideration
to entangle him and come in between himself and the Lord.
One more area of entanglement remains to be mentioned. In a final, passionate
appeal to his people, Joshua warned them that God would only go on delivering
them and making them victorious if they avoided alliances with the people
of the land (23:6-13). It soon appeared that Israel was not able to obey
this injunction, with the consequent series of terrible tragedies described
in the book of the Judges. Defeat after defeat came to them, their knowledge
of the Lord proved fleeting and superficial, and though they were given temporary
and limited deliverances, they failed to follow the example set before them
by Joshua, that good soldier of the Lord.
And what about us? We are not supermen. But nor was Joshua. He was, however,
a man of prayer and a man of the Book, and that should be true of all of
us. We can make our way prosperous and we can have good success, if we give
priority to the Word of God and seek grace and strength to persevere in obedience
to the Lord of the Word. [40/ibc]
[Inside back cover]
OLD TESTAMENT PARENTHESES (20)
"(but they are but vain words)" Isaiah 36:5
WE have now reached that part of the Old Testament in which there are
few parenthetical statements, so perhaps I may be permitted to make use of
this one which is only to be found in the Authorised Version.
IT is part of the harangue made by the multilingual Rabshakeh, who was
Sennacherib's Public Relations Officer. The all conquering Assyrians found
Jerusalem a very hard nut to crack, so they tried cajoling threats when
they did not quite know how to use their customary force. This is a constant
stratagem of our spiritual enemies, and it is sometimes successful.
THE point of emphasis being made was that it would only be a vain matter
of empty words if the Jews claimed to have resources in themselves. 'You
are saying', reasoned Rabshakeh, 'that you have counsel and strength for this
war, but your claims are absurd.' This would have been quite true if it had
been Hezekiah's position, but it was not. He made no such claims.
HAD he made them, it would indeed have been a foolish boast. The might
and experience of the Assyrians were all too great for any resistance by
puny little Jerusalem. If the Jews had relied on their own skill and strength,
they would undoubtedly have been defeated. But they were not defeated. God's
people never need be defeated. There is another factor in their spiritual
warfare, a factor of which the natural mind has no knowledge. Defeat is turned
into total victory when the Lord is brought into the fight.
CLEAR and persuasive as were the arguments of the loud-mouthed Rabshakeh,
they in their turn proved to be quite vain, for Hezekiah had ample resources
to withstand the attack, though those resources were in the Lord and not
HEZEKIAH did not say that he had them. He never used the words which
the lying Rabshakeh tried to put into his mouth. What he did say was that
he had no strength (37:3), his only hope being in God's ability to answer
prayer or perhaps in His willingness to do so. Hezekiah himself was not
too sanguine. "It may be" he suggested. Isaiah the prophet had a much more
robust faith. But little faith or great faith, the two men prayed and sought
help from heaven. The answer came quickly and comprehensively (2 Chronicles
32:21). And it was all because they prayed.
IF Hezekiah had said, or even thought, what was alleged by Rabshekah,
he would have indeed been frustrated. His words would have been vain. And
if we say or think in those terms, imagining that we can tackle the task,
there can be no hope of victory for us. Our way, like that of Hezekiah, must
be the way of humbling and prayer. What a pity we so seldom take it!
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
Printed by The Invil Press, 4/5 Brownlow Mews, London
WC1N 2LD -- Telephone: 01-242 7454