"... reaching forth unto those things which are before ...
toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus
(Philippians 3:13-14)

Previous issue | Next issue


Vol. 15, No. 5, Sep. - Oct. 1986 EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster

Life In The Heavenlies (5) 81
The Spirit In Romans 8 (5) 87
Let Him Who Boasts Boast In The Lord (4) 91
The Living God 96
Editorial 100
Old Testament Parentheses (23) ibc



(The Epistle to the Ephesians)

Harry Foster


THE next section of the Letter deals with the subject of contrasting lifestyles, and in both cases the word used to describe them is the verb 'walk'. Although we are described as being 'seated' in the heavenly places, armchair life there is not contemplated; our life is to be practical and ever active. In fact the word 'walk' is a comprehensive Bible word which describes how we are to behave.

I believe that it is easier to judge people's characters from their manner of walking than from their faces. Be that as it may, we are here dealing not so much with mobility but with life-style. United with the ascended Christ in the heavenlies, we are now informed that the same God by the same power undertakes to enable us to live lives worthy of such a privilege.

Though Paul was doubtless proceeding in a spirit of prayer, he opens this chapter by addressing the Ephesians directly -- "... and you ...". The verb which governs this section does not appear until verse 5, although in our English version it is inserted at once for purposes of clarification. In fact, however, the apostle delayed saying what God had done for them in making them alive in Christ until he had defined in some detail the state of death which had previously characterised them, a state which is true of all non-Christians. It seems that death marks them even as they walk.

The picture is a gloomy one, but it is the divine diagnosis of the condition of the natural man. In some people those features here described are evident while in the case of others, Paul's blunt words may seem hardly to be justified. Nevertheless they are true. Moreover this dark description of rebellion, slavery and hopelessness is applied not only to the Ephesians ("and you"), but to the remainder of humanity ("even as the rest"), including the writer himself ("among whom we also all once lived" -- v.3).

Looking back from the heavenlies we recognise what we once were. We might prefer to forget it -- and we often do -- but the injunction is given that we are to remember the hopeless condition in which we once were found (v.11). It seems, then, that it may be a healthy exercise to contrast the earthly manner of living which is common to all humanity with the lifestyle of true children of God who now belong to the heavenlies. This we will try to do.

The Earthly Lifestyle

If the term 'heavenlies' describes the experience of believers, then perhaps 'earthlies' can accurately express the realm in which the non-Christian operates. There is nothing intrinsically evil in that term for we all live here on the earth and we tend even to use the term 'down-to-earth' in tones of approval. To be earthbound, though, is to be inextricably involved in ways of life which can never rise but only lead steadily downwards into the realm of the lost. Therefore the man who has not been translated into the kingdom of heaven is one who walks:

1. In the ways of the world

"according to the course of this world"

It is generally agreed that in this connection 'the world' in Scripture means human society in detachment from God and in opposition to Him. Every member of this human society is by nature dead to God -- as Paul says, "dead while she lives" (1 Timothy 5:6). In this Letter he makes it clear that he is writing not only of the Ephesians but of all others, including himself.

It seems a strange anomaly, this idea of a dead man and a dead society on the move, but to me it becomes easier to understand if I accept the tri-partite constitution of man, that is, that in the human being there are not only realms of body and soul, but also of spirit. This means that [81/82] in the constitution of every individual there is spirit, soul and body. It is fairly clear, though by no means always easy, to discriminate between the physical side of man and that complex combination of mind, heart and will which we call the soul. For the Christian there will be no doubt about this. All may not agree about my suggestion that a man's spirit is quite distinct from his soul. Indeed I must record that many Bible teachers consider that we are wrong to try to make this distinction.

I can only stress my own convictions that this is the case, and it certainly clarifies the conception of unregenerate man being dead. As to our having a spirit, we are told that "The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God" (Romans 8:16). Such witness is, I suggest, deeper down than our soul life. The truth of our new birth may not be clear as a mental concept; it may or may not involve warmth in the realm of our affections; yet it is surely deeper down than our normal consciousness and located in our human renewed spirit. When the Bible stresses the fact that the Spirit's sanctifying work is meant to be total, it is described as covering our whole spirit, soul and body (1 Thessalonians 5:23), as though God differentiates between spirit and soul. Not that we can readily discern this difference ourselves. We are told, however, that the living Word of God can and does pierce "even to the dividing of soul and spirit" (Hebrews 4:12).

So far as I understand, every person has a spirit (small 's') and that it was in this realm of their beings that Adam and Eve died on the very day when they disobeyed God. At that moment their whole persons were affected, so much so that in the physical realm they immediately became aware of a new nakedness and in their souls they felt shame and fear, but at that moment death did not paralyse their bodies or their souls. Yet God had said, "in the day that thou eatest thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:17). All the sons of Adam therefore, are under the thraldom of death spiritually, they are "dead in trespasses and sins".

Man experiences the rule of death in his innermost being, or spirit, but it is in that same inner realm that grace imparts eternal life by the risen Christ. The spirit (small 's') knows life because the Holy Spirit dwells there. Sometimes that inner experience of the Holy Spirit overflows into the soul, so that we know Him by renewed minds and sanctified emotions; sometimes He extends His living energy into the body, giving strength and healing in the physical realm. Nevertheless, when physical powers are at their lowest, when every feeling seems numb and every thought negative, the Christian may know by faith the indwelling Christ in his spirit, deeper than all consciousness of body or soul.

This does not mean that it is possible to use the Scriptures to give clear clinical distinctions concerning the tri-partite constitution of man or that the Bible student can detect a pattern of differentiating as to what is of soul and what of spirit. The fact is that there is an inner man or 'heart' where Christ, by His Spirit, is permanently resident in the believer. Feelings may come and go, our emotions may be enfeebled or our thoughts muddled, but deeper than all those activities of the soul, there is the realm of the human spirit where the Holy Spirit has come to stay. This can be of particular comfort when we have to face the distressful confusion in our loved ones who may be very elderly or sick.

Adam died because of his own sin. The rest of unregenerate mankind is dead from the beginning. The human spirit is dead; it has no communication with God and makes no response to Him. The body may be alive, the soul may be in full function -- often in noble or beautiful ways -- but there is no life in the spirit. So it is that Paul first describes this tragic state and then gives God's gracious remedy for it.

'You', he writes, 'you who were dead beings, moving on to eternity in a dead world, helped and urged on by him who has the power of death (Hebrews 2:14) and wholly devoted to the performance of dead works (Hebrews 9:14) -- you have been made alive by being given a share in Christ's glorious resurrection.' Our only reply must be, 'Hallelujah!. Yet as we rejoice, we also shudder as we realise the desperate straits we once were in, "having no hope, and without God in the world" (v.12).

Life from the dead through the cross. That is our gospel. By all means let us support right government and justice in our own countries; by all means let us do our best to alleviate suffering in our contemporary world; but let us never [82/83] forget that it is a dead world of spiritually dead people who more than anything else need to know the Good News of our Saviour Jesus Christ who brought life and immortality to light by abolishing death.

2. In the ways of Satan

"according to the prince of the power of the air ..."

If the world is under the influence of unregenerate soul force, it is exposed to those powers which are often called psychic but which in fact are demonic. The apostle therefore continues to describe the 'walk' of dead humanity as being governed by "the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience, among whom we also all once lived ...". The moving spirit of this whole kingdom of rebellion against God is the prince of the power of the air. Jesus called him "the prince of this world" (John 12:31) and affirmed that this evil ruler had no entrance at all into His holy being (John 14:30). In this, as in so many other ways, our Lord was unique; apart from Him all humanity has lived under the dominion of spiritual evil, as the highly religious Pharisee Paul freely admits.

There can be no doubt about the reality of a personal Devil. He is here specified as a prince and is referred to as a person in the command, "Neither give place to the devil" (4:27). But Satan is not God. He cannot be omnipresent, dealing personally with each one of us as individuals. It was in his own person that he tempted Eve and was involved in the history of Job. He personally tempted the Lord Jesus in the wilderness and was defeated by Him on the cross. But although we speak and at time think of his dealings with us as if they were personal, we know in fact that he works through a host of agencies -- demons or fallen angels. Bunyan in his Holy War and C. S. Lewis in his Screwtape Letters help to illustrate this fact.

Make no mistake about it, unseen hosts of good and evil are real beings. In this Ephesian Letter we find three times over the phrase, "principalities and powers", and in each case they are related to this theme of the heavenlies. What is more, in the associated Letter to the Colossians, Paul tells us that the victorious conflict of the cross meant total triumph over these same principalities and powers (Colossians 2:15). The truth is that the earth is now under the influence of "the world-rulers of this darkness" (6:12). Those who are limited to the 'earthlies' either deny the existence of such unseen powers or live in superstitious fear of them, but those in the heavenlies do neither -- they recognise their reality but they claim victory over them through Christ and His cross.

Paul did not waste his time arguing about the reality of the spirit world. He did not need to do so in Ephesus, for it was there that people saw the calamity which overtook the sons of Sceva when they tried to play about with a demon (Acts 19:16). I have no doubt that when the new Ephesian converts made a bonfire of their books on that subject, it was not because of the emptiness of what was in those books but because of the spiritual evil of their former sorcery. Thank God that all who are in Christ have been delivered from those same evil cosmic powers who help to determine the course of those who are dead in sin.

3. In the ways of self

"doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind ..."

It has often been pointed out that when the New Testament uses the word 'flesh' it often refers only to flesh and blood, but when the point at issue is a moral one, the stress is upon that which is essentially selfish. We are born self-centered and for this reason we are classified as "children of wrath" for we inherit a nature which displeases God. In the matter of rebellion we are 'sons' because we act responsibly, but in our basic condition as sinners we are here called 'children' because this is how we were born.

It was David's heinous sin which alerted him to this truth. "Behold" he had to confess, "I have been a sinner from birth" (Psalm 51:5). He did not for a moment imply that there was any dishonour in his parentage, nor even that he had inherited an abnormal disposition, but only that his disgraceful acts had revealed to him that he had sinned because he was already a sinner. This is a discovery which all have made who now find themselves in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. [83/84]

Nowadays some of my friends urge me to keep preaching about the Ten Commandments in the hope that in this way sinners will turn to the Saviour. Much as I revere the law of the Lord I do not find that David's knowledge of those commandments kept him from sin or brought him to repentance. The apostle Peter knew the commandments well enough but he never exclaimed, "I am a sinful man, O Lord" until he had a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus (Luke 5:8). Saul of Tarsus was even more familiar with the Ten Commandments, but he too was only convinced of his sinfulness by his confrontation with the risen Lord Jesus. He then made David's discovery that it was not just that he had broken the commandments but that he could not possibly keep them. He had been born a sinner, as have we all.

The reality of this universal tendency to sin is emphasised in the later part of this Epistle for, when the apostle details some of the expressions of it in its ugly manifestations, he has to exhort his readers to seek and find their own deliverance through faith in Christ: "This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the vanity of their mind ..." (4:17). The implication is that by our old nature we are just as capable as ever of falling into sin, though now by grace we can live by our new nature which is "created in righteousness and holiness of truth" (4:24).

This brings us to that positive change of direction in the walk of those who now belong to the heavenlies. It is all the result of God's wonderful intervention: "BUT GOD" Paul writes and then again, "BUT NOW ..." (vv.4 & 13). Here is an altogether new way of life, planned from eternity by the Father of glory and made possible for us by the redemptive work of Christ.

The Heavenly Lifestyle

As to this new kind of walk, we are exhorted to let it characterise our heavenly lifestyle. We are to walk worthily of the gospel, to walk in love, to walk as children of light and to walk in wisdom. Fundamental to it all is the explanation of this present passage which tells us that grace has saved us by making us part of an entirely new creation of which the Lord Jesus is the federal Head. A whole new structure of life has been planned for us, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them."

What are these good works? It seems to me that we have two alternative possibilities, both of which may be true. The first and most obvious is that in His eternal election of His Church, God laid down good works like a railway line, indicating the procedure of the members of His new creation in Christ which they are to abide by as they proceed on their journey to glory. No-one can obtain favour by good works, as is clearly indicated by the assertion "not of works" and the insistence that it must be by faith alone. It is an obvious fact that no-one can create himself. Nevertheless good works are of the utmost importance -- they are like a permanent way of God's holiness which is so definite that "wayfaring men" however foolish, cannot mistake it (Isaiah 35:8). This is the main highway of good works along which all in the heavenlies must proceed.

The other alternative is much more personal, treating each individual Christian's progress as being directly planned for him by divine sovereignty. It is as though he were journeying as a car driver for which there were many possible roads, but driving according to an individual road map carefully devised for him. He does not have the entire map (God alone has that), but he gets constant instructions as to how he should move in the special route chosen for him by a loving God. Looking back, he will eventually see that his life had been characterised by good works which God had specially prepared just for him.

In both of these cases it is all too easy to get off the rails or to disregard the map which has been prepared and get involved in an unfortunate diversion. The mercy of God will bring us back or perhaps overrule our diversion and somehow guide us back to where we missed the way. God has a main line will for us all and He has specific directions for each individual; ours is the privilege of walking in His ways and not in the unprofitable ways of self and the world.

Here, then, is how we are to walk:

1. Walking in Humility

"Walk worthily of the calling wherewith you are called, with all lowliness and meekness" (4:1-2) [84/85]

Humility is a most Christlike quality and here it heads the list of virtues which are described as being worthy of the gospel. It involves not only a heart attitude but also a constancy of actual behaviour, so it is described as walking. Humility, together with love, will ensure the outworking of what follows. Only by these can the precious unity of the Spirit be maintained in the bond of peace.

This unity came about by Christ's extreme humbling of Himself and can therefore only be maintained by humble people. By His substitutionary death Christ took us all down into His tomb, having slain the enmity between man and man (2:16), so that in His resurrection He could bring to birth a new and united Church. What does 'one baptism' mean but that we all share that death of His? What does 'one body' mean if not that we all share His risen life? This oneness was made possible for us by the divine humility of Jesus: it can only be worked out in practical terms by our walking in all lowliness and meekness. God's direct choice of whatever each member is to have as a spiritual gift leaves no room at all for spiritual pride or imagined superiority. The growth of the body (the one body) is by means of "that which every joint supplies" and so demands a spiritual humility in mutual appreciation.

A humble walk can only result from a humble heart. The Lord Jesus particularly asked that we would learn of Him in this matter: "learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29). The apostle makes a direct reference to this when he speaks of 'learning' Christ. When we listen to Him, when we are taught by Him, we find in Jesus (note the rare use of this untitled name!) the sum total of all truth (4:20-21).

The Christians of Ephesus had a striking demonstration of true humility when the great apostle not only moved compassionately among them, but actually worked as a factory hand to provide financial support for gospel work in their city (Acts 20:34). It endeared him to the Church leaders but it also aroused the hatred of the powers of evil (Acts 19:23). It was too much like Jesus to be acceptable to them. Those who have rightly apprehended what this Letter has already told them of God's grace will find themselves hedged up to a walk of humility. It is the very atmosphere of the heavenlies.

2. Walking in Love

"Walk in love, even as Christ also loved you ..." (5:2)

The commands about how to walk are given in this order. Most people would have put love first, but true love without humility is surely quite impossible. So far as we are concerned, this new lifestyle began with love, for we are told that it was in love that the Father planned our future for us. We walk in His love. It was also love on the part of the Son who redeemed us, as we are immediately reminded: "Even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us." I do not think that this reference to the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf refers to His sin-offering on Calvary, but rather to that sweet-savour offering 'for acceptance' with which Leviticus opens up its illustrations of the sacrificial work of the Saviour.

So we have the electing love of the Father and the sacrificial love of the Son. What shall we say of the Holy Spirit? So far as He is concerned, no mention is here made of His love but we are warned not to grieve Him, with the implication that we will certainly do this if we do not repudiate all the ugly features of selfishness and make sure to be kind and tender-hearted to one another (4:30-32).

Love begat us; love surrounds us; love binds us together. If all this is true, then one of those good works which God has afore prepared for us to walk in must be the practice of active love. It may be worthy of enquiry as to how the Ephesian recipients of this Letter could in a comparatively short time be charged with having left their first love (Revelation 2:4). May I make a suggestion? Their church seems to have been a model of orthodoxy and activity. They worked hard for the Lord and they prided themselves on their sound teaching. Is it possible that this very pride -- which seems quite legitimate -- may have made them guilty so that lacking humility they also lacked love? Had they grown proud of their church? Was it more important to them than the Lord Himself? Was this why Christ had to threaten to remove their lampstand from its place? Strange as it may sound, it is possible for us to love our church and our work more than we love our Lord. If in any sense we grow in self-esteem, then inevitably our love to Christ will lessen. [85/86]

The people who live in the heavenlies believe in Church truth, they rejoice in election and justification, in sanctification and the sealing of the Spirit, but they focus their governing thoughts and their heart's love on the Person of the Saviour. He is their first love, and they must make sure to keep Him so.

3. Walking as Children of Light

"Ye were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord: walk as children of light" (5:8)

We must walk in the light, for only so can we be cleansed in God's sight and practise true fellowship. Here, however, we are told that redemption has actually made us children of light. Not only are we in the light but also the light is in us. Acting upon this spiritual fact, we are to prove what is well-pleasing to the Lord by making sure that the fruit, or the effect, of the light is displayed in our behaviour in terms of all goodness, righteousness and truth. This again is in close agreement with the words of the Lord Jesus in which He equated good works with our shining as light before men (Matthew 5:16).

In this brief section of Ephesians 5:8-14 we have three aspects of this matter. The first is that our daily walk must reveal that we are children of light, and that not only by our words but by our actions. So-called 'light' is not light at all if it has no fruit: sound doctrine demands sound living. Secondly there is the fact that if we illuminate those around us in this way, we cannot help but rebuke and condemn them. Again, this is not necessarily a matter of words but can be the result of one's presence. Thirdly, it can be that the miraculous effect of our shining may deliver men from their darkness and make them light too. They may be transformed from darkness into light in the same way in which we were changed, namely by being awakened from sin's dark night and brought into the daylight of Christ's salvation. How did that awakening come to us? Almost certainly because some ordinary Christian brought the light of Christ to us by behaving as a child of light.

4. Walking in Wisdom

"Look therefore carefully how you walk, not as unwise but as wise " (5:15)

I have already quoted from Isaiah the promise that the way of holiness will be so clear that even the foolish traveller cannot mistake it. Here, however, we are advised not to walk unwisely, so it seems reasonable to ask just what it is that the Bible calls wisdom. Here we see that it means:

i. Redeeming the time (v.16)

This involves making use of every opportunity (NIV). The people who have a genuine sense of divine call may well have to wait for its fulfilment, but for the spiritual pilgrim that should never mean that he merely marks time in an idling way, but that he moves on into the next thing which lies at hand, seizing every opportunity that may arise.

Through acting in this way, Peter found a marvellous opening to witness to the Temple rulers (Acts 3 & 4). How wise he was to stop to help that lame beggar -- much wiser than he could have known. It both redeemed the opportunity and precipitated the further chance of witnessing. From the first Paul knew that he was to be the apostle to the nations, yet he was content to spend a whole year with Barnabas in Antioch. When God's moment came it was that church which obeyed the Holy Spirit's command that he should be sent out to his worldwide ministry. In that waiting period, by helping in the ministry with Barnabas, he had been redeeming the time, doing the next thing.

At my retirement, I offered to lend a temporary hand with this magazine. In my simplicity, my thought was to buy up a brief opportunity of making myself useful until the right man took over the editorship. As it has turned out, though, this willingness to do the next thing has given me an unexpected open door to worldwide ministry for fifteen years. I evidently walked in wisdom when I made my offer, though at that point my only consciousness was of filling a gap in a temporary way. [86/87]

ii. Understand the will of the Lord (v.17)

This is not always easy. We must remember, though, that walking demands taking one step at a time. It is possibly in this connection that, in speaking of walking in the light, Paul added "proving what is well-pleasing unto the Lord" (v.10) as though urging us to make our steps deliberate rather than impulsive. 'Unwise' in this context is not ignorant, for we are all that, but unwilling humbly to seek God's guidance for each step.

iii. Openness to the Spirit (v.18)

We must never allow this contrast with wine to lead us to think of the Spirit as a commodity to be measured in percentages or grasped by our own efforts. What we are asked to do is to let the Holy Spirit keep on ministering to us of His gracious fullness. His standard is one hundred percent, that is the full occupation of the believer's whole man and the exercise of the total lordship of Christ. He always wants to do this; it is up to us whether we allow Him to do so, and it is a spiritually wise man who does his best to cooperate with Him in His holy activities. The way to provide such co-operation is seemingly to maintain and suitably express our gratitude to the Father through the Son so that the Spirit may more richly find release in our life (v.20). He makes it His business to affirm the absolute Lordship of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:3).

iv. Mutual submission (v.21)

We are back to where we started, namely, walking in humility. This is wisdom indeed, for it keeps us close to the Lord Jesus and protects us from falling into Satan's snare of pride. This will lead us on to our next study which will be concerned with the statement in 3:10 that God's wisdom is to be manifested in the corporate Christlikeness of Church life. These are the good works which God has already prepared that we should walk in them. At times they may appear to be limiting but in fact their values are such that to walk in this way is the highest wisdom that can be prescribed for any redeemed sinners.

(To be continued)


Michael Wilcock


THERE is no mention of the Holy Spirit in this passage. The Spirit points away from Himself. There is a sense in which this whole chapter is about the Holy Spirit, and we are well aware of His speaking to us in these last nine verses, but from the outset He points away from Himself. At first we read of him as the Spirit of Life, but it was life in Christ Jesus. As the Spirit of adoption, the emphasis was upon the Fatherhood of God. In the third section we dealt with the Firstfruits of the Spirit, but that only pointed us on to the future and the return of Christ. In our last study we considered the Mind of the Spirit, but the long and short of it all was that those of us who have been chosen in Christ should be conformed to the image of Christ. So all the way through, although the Spirit is speaking throughout and although He is often mentioned, He nevertheless always points away to Christ. Now we will find that His stress is upon the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In fact, not only in this chapter but in all the former chapters which lead up to it, the stress is on Christ Jesus our Lord. Chapter 5 begins and ends in this way. The last words of chapter 6 are "eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord", the last verse of chapter 7 gives thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, and the climax of this chapter 8 follows the same pattern, "the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Paul ends this whole section with a paeon of praise to God; it is a purple passage in which the apostle is both rhetorical and eloquent. It is all inspired, but in [87/88] his inspiration he seems to pose rhetorical questions which may help us to grasp what it is that he is actually saying. If you contrast the rendering of these nine verses in three or four versions, you will probably find that they are all different. This has nothing to do with the actual words, but rather with the punctuation. In verses 31, for example, our English Bibles put in the little word 'is', whereas what Paul wrote was, 'If God for us ...'. This happens in several places. What I want to do, therefore, is to suggest a different way of reading this passage in order to make it more helpful. I don't suggest that it is the only way, but pass on to you what I have found helpful.

I have called it a paeon, that is a song of praise. In some ways it resembles some of the psalms when obviously the intention is that there should be question and response. One verse might be sung by the person leading the worship and then everybody replying in the second part of the verse. A few weeks ago in Durham we had the congregation divided into two halves for the closing refrain of Psalm 24. One half said, 'Who is the King of glory?' and the other half replied, "The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory.' I propose to treat this section in this way, with answers to the questions posed.

We begin with the question, "What then shall we say to these things?" We must respond to the truths which have been brought to our notice. In the course of this passage we are about to be reminded of certain truths. What will be our responses to them? If, for example, we find the statement that God is for us, what will be our answer? And if we are told that God did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall we reply? I find in verse 31 to 39 five statements, so against them we will gladly respond with five rhetorical questions.

Statement No. 1

"God for us". It means that the great God of the Bible, who is so transcendent that He sits up there in the heavens Master of all, and yet even so has come down to us. The great God who is so complex and infinite that we can never understand Him, actually came down and made Himself known to us. He who is so holy and righteous on His throne of judgment that no flesh can stand before Him. The whole world is guilty in His sight and He is against all who transgress His commandments; yet we are told that He is FOR US. If I say to you that God in all His holiness and majesty, His transcendence and remoteness is actually on our side; if I assure you that the God who at the last day will divide between sheep and goats, saying to some 'I am not on your side' now pledges Himself that He is on our side, what can you say to that? If, with all the immense amount of meaning these words contain, I convey to you the three super words, GOD FOR US, what can your immediate reply be other than. 'Amen, brother! Hallelujah!'

But I want more than that. I want you to fill out that Hallelujah. I want a real thought-through response to this great fact of God for us. And Paul will tell you what it must be: it is "Who is against us?" Paul is the man who can remind us of what is against us: labours, imprisonments, beatings, toil, hardship, sleeplessness, exposure to the elements and to false brethren (2 Corinthians 11:23-28) -- the list is indeed a daunting one. It is clear that Paul was all too aware of the many things there were against him and yet in a deeper sense he insisted that nothing could be against him. None of these things could matter if he had God on his side.

The psalmist spoke freely about the enemies of God's people; the terror by night, the arrows by day, the pestilence that stalks in darkness and the destruction that destroys at noonday, but he nevertheless affirmed, "There shall no evil befall thee" (Psalm 91:10) -- in other words, Nothing can be against you. All sorts of opposition is ranged against the child of God as he seeks to serve the Lord, but he can dismiss them all and need not fear. So, if Statement No. 1 is 'God for us', Reply No. 1 must be 'Who can be against us?'

Statement No. 2

Paul now makes this further statement that God did not spare His Son but gave Him up for us all. What can we say to that? I remind you that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, and gave Him to be lifted up on the cross as the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness, and having reminded you of this marvellous truth, wait for your response once again. It will doubtless be, 'Amen, brother! Hallelujah!' But as you think this thing through, your amplified reply will surely be, "How shall he not also with [88/89] him freely give us all things?" Our reaction may be followed by a question mark, but it is a rhetorical question which does not need any other answer. If we have Christ we have everything. So our second response to this second statement must be that all God's riches are freely given to us in Christ Jesus our Saviour.

Statement No. 3

Here is the third statement, "It is God who justifies." Paul sets out the scene as if in a Court of Law. What is the charge? What sort of accusation is there against the one in the dock? We begin with the stated fact that the Judge is none other than God Himself. He knows all the facts, He is well aware of all the rights and wrongs. Yet He who made the laws governing our lives and administers those laws is the very One who makes the pronouncement, 'Not Guilty!' It is God who arraigns sinners, who weighs the evidence, who sums up and then pronounces the verdict and passes the sentence, but who yet maintains that they are not guilty. He is the supreme Judge; if I say that we know ourselves to be prisoners in the dock and yet hear His complete acquittal of us, I have to ask what will be our response to that? God makes all the laws and enforces them. If then it is He Himself who pronounces us guiltless, what can we say to this? Simply, 'Who can condemn us?' If the Judge Himself acquits me there is nobody left to condemn me. It is as if all the police of God's righteous rule stand gathered around in the court room, with Satan, the accuser of the brethren, as the chief prosecutor and the public gallery filled with spectators in the form of angels in all their holiness and demons in all their malevolence as they all await the Judge's decision. They are all silenced when the great Judge clears of all charges for not one of these can condemn those whom He has pronounced righteous. So to the statement, "It is God who justifies" we can answer with another rhetorical interrogation, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?"

Statement No. 4

In most Bibles we either find the words, "It is Christ that died" or perhaps the question, "Is it Christ that died?" The fact is that we have one more simple statement, a phrase and not a sentence. "Christ Jesus who died; more than that, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us." What can our answer be to that majestic statement? Surely our reply must be that no-one and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, though tribulation, distress, persecution, famine or nakedness, peril or sword do their utmost to do so.

If I were to remind you of the whole career of the Lord through this world and into the next, repeating the whole gospel story right the way through from the first chapter of Matthew to the last chapter of John, and on through the rest of the New Testament what would be your response? You will cry. 'Amen, Hallelujah!' and what you would mean by that cry would be, 'Who will separate us from such love?' The Christ who has given His all for us and now ever lives to make intercession on our behalf, gives us a love from which there can be no separation.

We list the things which might attempt to do this. They are tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword, a grim catalogue. But we are strong to affirm that none of these and not all these together can succeed. Christ's Calvary achievement has made us His very own.

One with Himself, I cannot die;

My soul is purchased by His blood;

My life is hid with Christ on high,

With Christ, my Saviour and my God.

Statement No. 5

This statement and its response are found in verses 36 and 37. Here we have an Old Testament quotation: "As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we have been reckoned as sheep for the slaughter" (Psalm 44:22). It is as though Paul continues: 'Hold on! Before you are carried away with euphoria, let me bring you down to earth and remind you of what has been true of God's people through all history, and is still true today; we are reckoned as sheep for the slaughter.' It is often hard to be a Christian. [89/90]

Earlier we have asked, 'Who is against us?' Well, there is very much that is against us. We have gladly affirmed that with Christ God will freely give us all things, but in practice we do not sense that we are enjoying all things. Although we have cried 'Who can condemn us?', there are times when our guilty conscience does condemn us. We have asked, 'Who will separate us from the love of Christ', but there are experiences when we do feel separated from the love of Christ. "For your sake we are being put to death all day long ...". It is as though Paul is reminding us of how tough it can be to be a follower of the Lord and asking what we will say to that. Well, the response to this fifth and last statement can only be that "in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us!" The instructed Christian who has followed the apostle's train of thought through these whole eight chapters will know what his response must be. He has followed the great truths of what God has done for us in Christ; now that he reminds us that it still means that we have to face a difficult life, our reply must be that we can face it in triumphant faith. We are not conquerors by avoiding our difficulties or just escaping from them; it is in all these things that we find ourselves more than conquerors through Christ our loving Lord.

The Climax

We now come to the last two verses which are the climax of this chapter and of the first eight chapters of the Letter: "I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (vv.38-39). This gives a long list of powers and forces in the universe around us. Some of them are angelic beings and some of them are very ordinary straightforward experiences. Paul is talking about the whole of creation, so at the end of the list he adds the phrase, 'any other created thing.' He admits that in this vast array of things which might be destructive forces, the uninstructed believer could imagine that which would come in between him and the love of God. The angelic powers in their holiness might do it, as well as the hosts of Satan in their malevolence. It is not just death that might separate us from Christ; all the things that life brings might preoccupy us and take us away from Him. We could spend a lot of time considering the many items in this long list but there is no value in doing so, since the point of Paul's mentioning them is only to say that they are nothing compared with the one simple overwhelming matter which is at the heart of the gospel, namely the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This Letter is the most complex and the most thorough of all Paul's teaching about the gospel of Christ. I could recommend many commentaries and books about it, but hesitate to do so lest the reader should be so dazzled as to imagine that it is a lecture for academics and theologians. When I was on the staff at Trinity College I used to say that the difference between a lecture and a sermon or message is that the latter requires a response, whereas a lecture just provides additional information to be entered in a notebook, to await whatever lecture is to follow. A message requires a response, and in that sense the Letter to the Romans is not just a lecture but a vital message.

What are you going to say to these things? That is the question. My purpose in these studies on Romans 8 is to provoke a response from my readers. No doubt what has been written will engage our minds and our thoughts, but if it comes to us as a message it will do more than that, it will touch our conscience and our heart. This Letter is not mere theology, not merely the preserve of academic people who can study it. It is theology, but it ends with love, and that is what turns it from being a lecture into being a message. It is profound and difficult; many large books have been written about it, and it takes all the mental equipment that we can bring to it. Supremely, however, it is a message from God and as such it demands a personal response from the reader. As well as the challenging facts, we have found in this passage what the right responses are.

They all add up to one splendid affirmation about the love of God. That is the golden thread which runs all through the passage. To whatever fact may be placed before us, we can reply, 'But God loves me!' The many factors which threaten us are quite outweighed by the love of God in Christ. They are blown away like the chaff on the wind, leaving the weight of the good wheat of the love of God in Christ Jesus. They evaporate like the mist of the morning, leaving us with the majesty and glory of the everlasting hills of God's great love.

(Conclusion) [90/91]


(Studies in 1 Corinthians 1 to 4)

Eric Alexander


PAUL is still writing about principles of Christian leadership and service, and he does so by employing three main metaphors, that of servanthood (4:1), of stewardship (4:1) and of fatherhood (4:15). It is possible to see the teaching of this whole passage as built around, and deriving from, these three metaphors.

The Servanthood Metaphor

This metaphor has already been used by Paul, though in that case (3:5) he employed the word diakonos. Here in 4:1 the word is huperetes , which originally referred to an under-rower, the lowest galley-slave. These were the most menial, unenvied and despised of servants. The word came to mean underling of any kind. This description looks back to what Paul has been saying: "So then, men ought to regard us as servants ..." (N.I.V.).

At the end of chapter 3 he has been insisting that there should be no more boasting about men. He then begins to build a kind of verbal pyramid: "All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future -- all are Christ's and Christ is God's". The significant thing is that the verbal pyramid has Paul at the bottom, not at the top. In listing the things that belong to the Corinthians, he is seeking to cure their boasting about men and to deliver them from their false way of thinking when they claimed, 'I belong to Paul ... I belong to Apollos'.

Now, says Paul, the very reverse is the case. It is we who belong to you. He is saying that the minister belongs to the church, not the church to the minister. This is true of all forms of Christian service; we are not just God's servants, we are the servants of God's people, as Paul makes quite clear in his Second Letter: "We ... preach ... Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Corinthians 4:5). So we fulfil not a master's role to domineer, but a servants role to be underlings.

But notice that in this pyramid, although all things belong to the believers at Corinth, they do not belong to themselves: "You are Christ's" (v.23). This means that both leaders and those who are led are together servants who owe allegiance to Christ as Lord. And the pattern of their service is the Lord's own service: "Christ is God's." Notice how the idea is built up. We are yours; you are Christ's; and Christ is God's. It is clear that this is a pattern of service. Some have been afraid to give this phrase its full force because of the idea of what is called 'subordinationism' -- that is, somehow making Christ lower than God. But, of course, in His mediatorial office, Jesus does willingly subject Himself to His Father, and He is therefore the Servant par excellence. So it is that the Father, referring to the Messiah, says, "Behold my servant", and Jesus Himself says, "The Father is greater than I" (John 14:28).

Paul makes it even clearer in 1 Corinthians 11:3, when he says that "the head of the woman is the man, and the head of the man is Christ, and the head of Christ is God." This does not detract in the slightest from the full divinity and divine glory of our Lord Jesus Christ and His equality with the Father. But it does mean [91/92] that Christ's pattern of lowly, obedient, single-minded, God-centred, costly service is our pattern. That is why the Servant Songs of Isaiah are such an important study for any servant of God. We are to be made in the same image. The key metaphor for Christian leadership is the metaphor of the servant. The badge of it is the apron; the typical posture is kneeling, to wash the feet of those whom he serves. My brothers and sisters, we need this servant-spirit to be written by the Holy Ghost into our life and character. So many of the problems which we have in the relationships of Christian workers in all sorts of spheres would completely disappear if God made us like His Son who made Himself of no reputation, humbled Himself and took the form of a servant.

The Stewardship Metaphor

The Church has been described as a field and a building (v.9), but here it is like a household or estate, and most households of means had a steward, who was a kind of custodian. So our second metaphor for service is that of stewardship. The Greek word is that from which we get our English word 'economist'. The steward was related to his master in terms of total subordination and total accountability, so what was therefore required of him was faithfulness. His master could trust him (a) To subordinate his own interests to the master's and (b) To deal with his goods as one who must give account to the master. Here Paul focuses this matter of stewardship in four ways:

i. The Stewardship of Scripture

The precise sphere of our stewardship is said by Paul to be what our Master has entrusted to us in what he calls, 'the mysteries of God' (v.1). These are, of course, the mysteries or secrets which are revealed by God and recorded for us in Holy Scripture. It is God's revealed truth which has been committed to us as stewards and, in relation to it, we are to be totally subordinate and totally accountable to Him: "It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful." Our basic concern therefore in this stewardship is that we should rightly handle the Word of Truth and consequently have no need to be ashamed when we finally meet our Master (2 Timothy 2:15).

I think that this is what the apostle is referring to further on where he says, 'Now, brothers, I have written about myself and Apollos in this way for your benefit; that in us you might learn not to go beyond what is written' (v.6). This might perhaps have been a saying in the early Church: 'Nothing beyond what is written.' Paul was eager that in Apollos and himself the Corinthians should hold to this. This was the stewardship that they exercised. He wanted them to be men and women who would be bound to Scripture and bound by Scripture. He wanted Scripture and Scripture alone to mould their thinking, to set the limits of their standards and behaviour, to be the highest court of appeal for their doctrine and to be the rule by which they lived in every area of their life. Nothing beyond what is written!

It is a glorious thing when the influence we have upon others and the lesson they learn from our lives is 'not to go beyond what is written'. This was precisely Paul's example, as he explains in his second Letter: "We refuse to ... tamper with God's Word, but by open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to every man's conscience" (2 Corinthians 4:2). That is the apostolic example. That is what our generation so desperately needs in the Church of Jesus Christ today.

ii. The Stewardship of Criticism and Praise

It seems to me that verses 3 to 5 deal with this matter. The fact that it is to God alone that we are accountable, and that our life and service will come under His scrutiny should put the judgment of men into its proper context. So, after saying that it is required in stewards to be found faithful, Paul goes on to say, "I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court. Indeed I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me."

If you are going to be a faithful steward, then you will need to keep your ear attuned to God's assessment of you, and not man's. That means that no Christian leader must ever become a reed shaken about by human criticism or human praise. [92/93]

Some will hate thee, some will love thee,

   Some will flatter, some will slight;

Cease from man, and look above thee;

   Trust in God, and do the right.

Such an attitude, Godward and God-centred, will save us in two ways. Firstly, it will save us from becoming the victims or even the playthings of human praise or criticism -- "It is the Lord who judges me". Secondly, it will save us from becoming the victims of an unhealthy introspection -- "Indeed, I do not judge myself". We are to give ourselves to serving the Lord and living before Him with a clear conscience and avoid wrongly looking inward to ourselves. There are, however, two caveats which need to be added, for it does not mean that we are to be impervious or resentful towards anything negative that is said about us nor does it mean that God's servants do not need encouragement or guidance.

The true stewardship of all kinds of criticism is that it should be deflected upwards to God. If it is negative criticism, we need to deflect it upwards to Him, asking Him to teach us whatever He may be saying to us in it and to deliver us from being harmed by it. If it is positive praise, then we need to deflect it upwards to Him, for whatever glory there is must belong to Him. In this way we are safeguarded by being left under the scrutiny of God.

iii. The Stewardship of Gifts

There is just a word about this subject in verse 7. Paul has been urging them regarding the stewardship of Scripture; saying that if they do not go beyond what is written, they will not be tempted to take pride in one man over against another. So the stewardship of Scripture and the stewardship of gifts are linked. If our minds and spirits are ordered by Scripture, we will not take pride in one man over against another, nor will we set our gifts over against the gifts of another as though we had something in which to boast.

Notice how Paul questions them: "Who maketh thee to differ? What hast thou that thou didst not receive? If thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?" The point is that it is preposterous and ridiculous to boast in gifts that have their origin not in us but in God. Whatever gifts He has given us we are merely stewards of them, and it is the stewardship metaphor which helps us rightly to deal with this matter. Since God is our Master, it is not only ludicrous, it is blasphemous to rob Him of the glory that belongs to Him that has bestowed them on us. We have not earned them; we do not merit them; we are incapable of producing them; they are not ours but God's. How then do we dare to boast in them? We are but stewards, and woe to the man or the woman who prostitutes the gifts of God to serve his or her own interests or glory.

iv. The Stewardship of Suffering

We now come to the theme of the passage from verse 8 to verse 13, and it is the stewardship of suffering. There was the emotional and spiritual suffering which Paul experienced as a pastor in the spiritual poverty of the Corinthians. Perhaps the most painful thing to him about their condition was the illusion about themselves under which they lived, and the complacency that they displayed. That was what Paul sought to puncture with the sarcasm and irony of verse 8.

Spiritual poverty is one thing, but to be perfectly satisfied with it is an alarming spiritual sickness. This verse has the sense, 'My, but you are so easily satisfied! How quickly your appetite dies! How readily you congratulate yourselves on being rich when in fact, like the Laodiceans, you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked!' It is their lack of appetite, the death of any awareness of need, that really distresses the apostle. It breaks his heart and tears his soul, because it represents the signs of a deep-seated spiritual malady. "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness" says Jesus, and the corresponding woe in Luke's version of the Sermon is, "Woe unto you who are full now."

So Paul suffered on their behalf, agonising over their spiritual condition. But clearly he also suffered physically: "For I think that God has set forth us the apostles last of all, as men doomed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men" (v.9). The whole picture he sees as illustrated in the triumphant procession of a general after a war [93/94] or a campaign. The spoils of his victory were brought in and last of all, trailed in the dust and often in chains, were the prisoners who were on display. Paul sees the apostles thus trailed in the dust at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die.

They have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. They have become fools for Christ (v.10). Then from verse 11 we have a picture of some of the extreme physical sufferings that Paul endured for the gospel's sake, and he emphasises that this is not ancient history but his present experience, "Unto this present hour" (v.11), "even until now" (v.13).

Now the question for us, is how are we to steward our sufferings for Christ? It is a stewardship that God has given us. He entrusts us with many different kinds of suffering that it may all be employed for His glory. How did Paul steward his sufferings? May I point out three things which emerge from this passage?

1. The Sovereignty of God in Suffering.

We must not miss the little phrase in verse 9. "For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display ...". This gives us the perspective from which Paul views his circumstances. In this connection he does not present God's sovereignty as a dry academic doctrine but as a divine stabliser in the storms of life, bringing the believer poise and peace and assurance. It is God that has put us in our present circumstances. That conviction is the ground of the child of God's security, and the perspective from which he is to view suffering and to steward it.

This is precisely the perspective from which Jesus viewed His sufferings. When Pilate blustered and threatened Him with his authority, Jesus calmly replied, "You could have no authority over me except it were given to you by my Father."

Inspirer and Hearer of prayer.

   Thou Shepherd and Guardian of Thine,

My all to Thy covenant care

   I sleeping and waking resign.

If Thou art my Shield and my Sun,

   The night is no darkness to me;

And fast as my moments roll on,

   They bring me but nearer to Thee.

So the last word in suffering is never with man but with God, and this will enable us to steward it by His grace.

2. The Honour of Christ in Suffering.

Having spoken of being made a spectacle to the whole universe, Paul adds at the beginning of verse 10: "We are fools for Christ's sake." That is the significant thing about the apostle's sufferings -- they are for Christ's sake. If then his sufferings bring honour to Christ he is content to bear them. When the sufferings as well as the blessings of life are taken up in the hands of God and woven into His eternal purpose to honour and glorify His Son, then that is enough for the apostle and for us.

3. The Example of Christ in Suffering.

This is the third perspective from which Paul stewards and views his own sufferings. In this matter Jesus sets us the perfect example. Verses 12 and 13 refer to suffering at the hands of others: "Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted we endure; being defamed we intreat ...". Cursing, persecution and slander may be our lot; the question is, How do we react to it? Paul says that we are to follow the Saviour's example: "When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly" (1 Peter 2:23). This is precisely how the Lord Jesus taught us we were to steward suffering: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you."

There are three phrases which will summarise this teaching about the stewardship of suffering: they are 'from Him' -- He is the Sovereign Lord; and 'for Him' -- it is His honour that will be the outcome of it; and ' like Him' -- the end in view is likeness to Christ. [94/95]

The Fatherhood Metaphor

We now come to Paul's third and final metaphor. From verse 14 Paul explains that he is willing to exercise a stewardship of suffering on the Corinthians' behalf because they are his beloved children. He has of course been an evangelist among them. He has fulfilled the function of a teacher sent from God. In verse 15, however, he is eager to highlight the distinction which makes him something infinitely more than either of these. They may have had many tutors or guardians, but they had only one father and "In Christ Jesus" says Paul, "I became your father through the gospel." What he meant was that he was intimately involved in their spiritual birth. In his writing to the Galatians, Paul describes himself as their spiritual mother: "My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you" (Galatians 4:19), while to the Thessalonians he speaks of himself as a nursemaid gently caring for her children in their formative years (1 Thessalonians 2:7). The point of these metaphors is that the apostle is describing the most intimate personal relationship between himself and those whom he cared for in the Church of God.

Two things may be said about this fatherhood. Firstly, its origin: "I became your father through the gospel" (v.15). The implication is that he not only brought the gospel to them, but that he had actually been present to witness the miracle of regeneration as they were brought into the family of God. It was that which gave him a unique relationship with them. Secondly, there are the implications of being a spiritual father. Negatively, it does not imply either authority or superiority. It is in this sense that Jesus forbids the term: "Call no man your father on the earth ..." (Matthew 23:9). In this way Paul addresses his fellow-Christians not as their father but at their brother. Positively, however, there are several implications of spiritual fatherhood. Here are three:

i. A Father's Example

This is where true spiritual authority come from. "I became your father through the gospel. I beseech you therefore, be imitators of me." Spiritual authority does not come with age. It does not come merely with experience, nor with education or position. Some were inclined to despise Timothy because of his comparative youthfulness, but Paul wrote to him: "Don't let anybody despise your youth, but be an example to the flock." Age does not confer authority, and certainly youth does not disqualify from it. Only an exemplary life of true godliness confers it. "Be imitators of me" (v.16).

In this connection Leon Morris comments: "While in the different circumstances of today, preachers may well hesitate to call others to imitate them, it still remains that if we are to commend our gospel, it must be because our lives reveal its power." My brothers and sisters, that is probably the most important thing of all for us to learn. We need to cry to God that He will give us a life that is exemplary.

ii. A Father's Love

The second implication of fatherhood is love. It is not just a sentimental or emotional attitude of which Paul is thinking in calling them his beloved children (v.14), but it is the kind of love which he refers to in 2 Corinthians 12:14-15, where he is not speaking of being possessive, but of being expendable for their sake. He did not count even his life dear to himself: he would gladly spend himself and be spent on their behalf.

Now that is a quality in Christian service which is absolutely indispensable. "The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep" says Jesus, and although He gave Himself in an atoning and redemptive way and we do not, yet the same spirit of self-sacrificial giving should be the basis of the whole of our ministry. I am therefore greatly disturbed when I find Christian leaders resentful, unwilling and reserved about the way in which they will give themselves to their people. The apostolic pattern, the example of a father's love, what distinguishes the good shepherd from the hireling, is a readiness to spend and be expended for the sake of their souls. So then, like a father, we are to love with a sacrificial, gentle, Christlike love.

iii. A Father's Faithfulness

You will notice that in verses 18 to 21, combined with this deep and costly love, there is an equally deep and costly [95/96] faithfulness in the way Paul deals with his spiritual children. True love is never blind. And true love is never soft. It is of course the mark of a father, that if anyone is going to be utterly faithful with his child, it will be he.

Others will be more easily satisfied than he. For his part, he will never be content with a spiritual life that is mere talk. "I will know, not the word of them which are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power." Talk does not satisfy his father-heart; he wants to see the evidence of the power of God. So he will deal faithfully with all forms of arrogance and pride and self-interest. If he cared for them less deeply, he would deal with them less faithfully.

Let me then summarise and conclude. Our ministry to others must be marked by the humble submissiveness of the servant, by the wise faithfulness of the steward, and by the loving example of the father.

This means that the Christian worker must be concerned not with status or office but with service; not with his own interests but with Christ's; not with his own glory but with God's. That is indeed the core of this whole introductory passage of 1 Corinthians. What was at stake in Corinth was nothing less than the glory of God, and Paul's jealousy for it was just a reflection of the burning jealousy of the heart of God for His own glory. "My glory will I not give to another." For this reason God will always resist the proud but give grace to the humble.

My brothers and sisters, I believe that in a thousand ways, this is what is at stake in our generation. This is the challenge which we must all face. Is there some area in our life where God is being robbed of His glory? Is there some area of our service where He is being so robbed? Do we really care for the world about us? The ultimate thing that matters to God, wherever the gospel is being preached, is that there are areas where He is being robbed of His glory. That is the ultimate motive of evangelism -- the glory of God. And that is the vocation and destiny of the Church. May Jeremiah's words keep ringing in our ears: "He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord."



John H. Paterson

"Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands.
they have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but
they see not ... They that make them are like unto them;
so is every one that trusteth in them.
" Psalm 115:4-8

THERE were two classes of people for whom the psalmist felt unlimited contempt. One was the fools who say that there is no God, and the other was the kind of person who believes in a god which he has built for himself. In this familiar passage in Psalm 115, which is substantially repeated in Psalm 135, the writer was using the occasion to pour scorn on those in the second category.

In doing so, he was using an argument which was to occur elsewhere in the Scriptures. Nobody jeered more loudly than Elijah on Mount Carmel at the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:27)! And in his more refined and academic way Paul made the same point to the Athenians. "We ought not to think", as he delicately put it to these arch-thinkers of the ancient world, "that the godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, [96/97] graven by art and man's device" (Act 17:29). Why ought we "not to think"? Because of the sheer lack of logic in doing so -- of setting up the idea of "God", and then building Him to our own specifications.

It is easy enough to feel either scorn or pity for those to whom "God" means nothing more than their own construction out of whatever materials they can lay their hands on. And it is not too difficult to sense the dreadful emptiness of that moment at Carmel when Baal had been invoked by every means at his priests' disposal, and nothing but silence followed. But while we give thanks for our own deliverance from idol worship and man-made gods, let us pause for a moment to ask what our God means to us.

For the psalmist clearly infers that our God can do all the things which the idols of the heathen cannot do. He can see, speak, hear and smell. He has hands to act and feet to move, and a host of Bible references under each of those headings will already have crossed your mind in support of the claim. They all add up to an impression of a God who is at work in His creation; who acts and reacts.

Is He Really a Living God?

But although this is the essence of our Christian view of God, it is under constant challenge from two separate directions, and it is to these challenges that I wish, for the present, to direct your attention.

The first challenge is this: that in our own society we are far too sophisticated to take a piece of wood or stone and label it "god" but what people do instead is to create their own gods as a product not of their hands but of their minds. They have a view of God which is just as much man-made as the wooden idol. How often have we heard someone betray this fact by saying, in the course of a discussion, "Oh, but that's not my idea of God!"? In a way, actually, the heathen with his idol is being more logical than the thinker because, having imagined his god, he sets out to give it a likeness -- to portray it -- whereas the thinker has nothing but a vague, amorphous Something to which he gives the name of God.

But we can go further. Not only does this Something lack definition, but definition is just what our thinker prefers not to give it. To him, crediting God with the ability to see, or hear, or move, only goes to show that we have made a god like ourselves. To him "god" is a force or a quality, not a person.

To think in that way is every man's privilege, if he wishes to do so. But believers everywhere must sound the alarm when they encounter this attitude not among their agnostic or humanist friends but among God's people themselves. You will not need me to remind you that it has become entirely fashionable to think of God as a Force -- generally identified simply as Love -- and to disavow any theology that could have Him make demands, or act in judgement, or react in any way to the condition of His people.

His seeing eye and hearing ear have long since passed out of account, for how is it possible that a God who really can see and hear should fail to react to the parlous state of His world? His hands and His feet, the instruments of His purpose, seem powerless or inert, and it is simpler, therefore, to believe that He has none -- which at least saves us the trouble of trying to believe in the miracles! He exists, if He exists at all, in our minds alone.

Reducing God to Nothing

And so we have the spectacle of a Church whose God has grown very small -- a God who has nothing to say, and who makes no response to the crying needs of His world; who can be out-classed, in fact, by an Irish singer who raises millions of pounds for famine relief without even stopping to have a shave!

So, here is my first point. We must be ready at all times to challenge one another over this spirit within the Church of what the philosophers will call "reductionism". That simply means a [97/98] tendancy to explain everything in terms of the basics of life, physical or rational, as when Scrooge in Dicken's Christmas Carol, tried to convince himself that Marley's ghost was not a ghost but simply "an undigested bit of beef, a blob of mustard, a crumb of cheese." The Church's critics have been explaining it in this way for centuries: let us see to it that we do not base our view of God on the same kind of argument!

For this is not just a question of how we look at the idea of God. On the contrary, consider what we lose if we have a God that does not see, hear and the rest of it. The implications are appalling, as many millions of people realise who have no other view and no other God. There are basically four attributes of God which the psalmist refers to here:

(1) A God who can see and hear.

This means a God who can he informed about what is going on. If our God cannot see and hear, then we lose immediately not merely the idea of prayer, but the whole concept, also, of a moral universe. We lose the idea of any recording or accounting, and so of any ultimate justice. In that case, might is right and right is whatever a man can get away with; doing good is a waste of time because nobody notices and we may as well act in our own interest.

(2) A God who speaks.

The God who speaks can tell His creatures of His intentions and wishes. It belongs to the idea of "God" that, unless He reveals Himself to us, we have no hope of finding out what He is like: He must come to us, for we cannot come to Him. There is a certain logic, therefore, in those tribes and peoples who believe that God speaks in weather or crop growth, animal movements or earthquakes. They are desperate for God to say something -- anything -- and must imagine His words if they cannot hear Him speak in human terms. Without the word of a God who speaks we are lost, absolutely.

(3) A God who smells.

God smells. Strange as this idea may seem to anyone not familiar with the Bible narrative, it can be amply documented there. We can begin with Genesis 8:20-21, go on to the "sweet savour" of the Levitical offerings and the special incense burned in the Tabernacle for God alone (Exodus 30:34-38), and then note the contrast in Isaiah 65:5, where God rejects His people's worship as mere smoke in His nostrils.

Consistently throughout these references the thought is of what pleases God and what does not: what He will receive and what He will not. This God of ours with the "sense of smell" is a God who discriminates between good and bad: who can recognise in a world of sin the presence of what satisfies Him. As we come over to the New Testament we have no difficulty in seeing where His "sense of smell" is leading Him! Just as we may carry about with us a particular perfume or smell that our friends can identify even after we have left a room, so God detects the presence of the unique incense -- the presence of the one person who satisfies Him: "... lo, a voice from heaven saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17).

Just because we live in a world of mixture; just because, also, we His servants have mixed motives which we can never hope to sort out for ourselves, how important it is to have a God who discriminates, and whose word is "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).

(4) A God who has hands to act and feet to move forward.

If there is one idea more than another which has been lost to the world in our century, it is that of a God active and purposeful in His creation. Most people today would credit God with neither control nor purpose. Their constant theme is, "If there is really a God there, why doesn't He do something?" Can you not imagine the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel asking -- under their breath, of course -- the very same question?

To raise ourselves and our world above the level of Baal worship, we have got to insist on this: that God is at work; that He does have a purpose. The Children of Israel, above everybody else, should have known this, for their own legs had carried them in the train of this "God who has feet", clear across the desert and into the land of promise. They can have had no doubt that He was moving purposefully on, as Psalm [98/99] 68:24 says, "They have seen thy goings O God." But this view of a purposeful God is one which over the centuries His people have lost, just as Israel seems to have done, once they got into the promised land and stopped using their feet to advance. Yet it is vital that we recapture it, and insist upon it, if our God is to be great enough for our needs.

A Challenge To Belief

How much, then, is lost if our idea of God is diminished! But let me move on. I said earlier that there are two challenges to the idea of a God who sees and hears. The first comes from outside ourselves, the second from inside. For while, as God's people, we should be insisting on the "big" view of Him, we face the constant challenge to our own faith: "Do I really believe, myself, in a God like this?"

Does God really see and hear what goes on in His world? Is He really keeping accounts? Is He really interested in me? If we sometimes wonder about these questions, we are in the best of company! For few themes occur more frequently in Scripture than this complaint: God has forgotten or overlooked, or closed His eyes to, the trials of His people.

The psalmist himself was not always in the confident, sarcastic mood of Psalm 53 or 115. Listen, for example, to him in Psalm 77:1-5, as dramatically paraphrased for us by the author of The Living Bible:

"I cry to the Lord, I call and call to him. Oh, that he would listen. I am in deep trouble and I need his help so badly ... There can be no joy for me until he acts. I think of God and moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help. I cannot sleep until you act ... I keep thinking of the good old days of the past, long since ended."

What a distinguished line of doubters! Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, the souls of the martyrs in Revelation 6:10. Habakkuk it is who encapsulates in a single sentence the dilemma of God's people. Confronting His apparent reluctance to open His eyes and see:

"Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity; wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?" (Habakkuk 1:13).

The dilemma, you see, is a frightening one: either God has not noticed the evil, in which case the moral foundations of our world have ruptured, or He has noticed but does not care to do anything about it. You take your choice! How sadly Habakkuk needed the reassurance, "Though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come ..." (2:3). God has seen it all!

Among all these "senses" or actions of God -- His eyes, His speech, His hands -- the challenge may come to each of us on a different point. Has He a message for me, or a purpose for me, an ear for my prayers, or has He lost interest? Did I just dream it all in the first place? I think that, as we get older, we find ourselves looking back and recalling how long it is since He last spoke, or seemed to call us to fresh service; how little purpose our lives seem to be serving, until ultimately we may fall to brooding that He really seems as aloof and silent as if He were made of wood or stone, and the heavens of brass. To believe in divine purpose for a life which is, humanly speaking, almost ended may be the last and the hardest task of all.

The Impact of Our View of God

There is a lot more that could be said about God's seeing, hearing and speaking, but you can follow through these thoughts for yourself. Let me now simply draw your attention to the latter part of our excerpt from Psalm 115: "They that make them are like unto them". The psalmist says that your concept of God shapes your entire outlook, your decisions and your character. If you have a God who never speaks, is blind to his world and purposeless or capricious in his activity, then you will tend to fill in the gap by making up your own rules, writing your own pronouncements; in short, by becoming your own god. It is a process of "reductionism" which Paul, I think, was referring to where, in reference to the heathen, he says they are "walking in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them" (Ephesians 4:17-18). "With a life-giving God" says Paul, "you don't write your own rules: you follow His!" [99/100]

So we become what our view of God makes us. But there is a happier side to this. If it is true that the idol-worshipper grows to be like his idol, then it is in a much fuller sense true that the living God gives life to those who believe in Him. That life has His own qualities, and we may speak, hear, see and act for Him. We may even "smell" like the Lord Jesus! 'Thanks be to God who leads us, wherever we are, on His own triumphant way and makes our knowledge of Him to spread through the world like a lovely perfume! We Christians have the unmistakable "scent" of Christ ...' (2 Corinthians 2:14-15) (Phillips). For those who serve the living God, it is their fondest hope and deepest faith that they are growing indeed to resemble Him, and that one day they will be like Him, for they will see Him as He is.



ON June 1st, Capt. Godfrey Buxton went to his heavenly Home, full of days and very fruitful days at that. He was what we called 'Commandant' of Pioneer Camp in S. E. London from 1922 to 1939. The camp was more officially known as The Missionary Training Colony and its purpose was to provide some basic training in the Bible and in practical matters for young men pledged to blaze trails into parts of the world where there was no gospel witness.

In the early twenties we were on fire to spread the gospel into unreached areas, believing that when it had been preached in all the world for a witness Christ would return in glory. I was one of the early trainees and now almost all of my contemporaries are with Christ -- still awaiting His return in glory! Now, at the age of 91, Godfrey has joined them.

We were apprentices in this matter of evangelisation and the Word of God was our workshop. We learned many practical things but our main task was Bible study and Godfrey, crippled from the first war and at that time only about thirty years old, was our instructor. The method was unusual, to say the least of it. He took us through the Bible, book by book, chapter by chapter and often verse by verse.

To the best of my recollection he had two marked Bibles and few other notes for these morning lectures. He was always ready to listen to a question or to discuss an objection. Our only examinations were essays which he set us from time to time. We tended to eschew notebooks and ourselves worked with wide-margin Bibles, a method suitable for those who, like me, later travelled with no more luggage than could go in a dug-out canoe or on a mule's back.

We were apprentices in prayer as well as in hut-construction, cooking, laundry and the like. Eternity will reveal the great work which Godfrey did in helping some two hundred or more young men to do what the apostles resolved at the first to be their procedure: "But we will continue steadfastly in prayer, and in the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4). We had a few -- very few -- days of prayer, but we prayed often, alone, in groups and all together. We had to pray for our daily bread, but we did not spend much time praying about ourselves but concentrated on a needy world. We had a special concern for closed lands and I have lived to see many answers to those prayers of long ago.

At the outbreak of war in 1939 the Colony had to close, and it now seems clear that Godfrey acted wisely when, under God and in answer to a small group of us in prayer together, he made no attempt to revive it. It needs as much grace to lay down a work when God has finished with it as it does to commence such a work at the beginning. But then Godfrey was known by us all as a man of great grace.

A decade ago, on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, there was a reunion of about a hundred of us -- a lot older, a little wiser, but united in our deep affection for our Commandant and just as joyful as we had ever been. We readily admitted that on the whole we were an undistinguished lot, almost as much spiritual nobodies as we had been when we started, but we yielded to no-one in our enthusiastic thanksgiving to God for the privileged lives we had been able to live for Christ's sake and the gospel's.

I am glad to pay this tribute to a man of God who helped me so much at the beginning and became a gracious encourager of the work of this magazine. "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord ... they rest from their labours and their works do follow them." [100/ibc]


[Inside back cover]


"(behold, it cometh)" Ezekiel 33:33

SOME notable features of this parenthesis are that it is the shortest of them all, that it was spoken by the Lord Himself, and that it has for its context the amazing circumstances of a true prophet of the Lord finding himself on the crest of a wave of popularity: "Thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument."

THE interjection that "it will surely come" insists that God makes no vain threats but will see to it that His warnings of judgment are ratified. Those happy sermon-tasters who got so much pleasure from listening to the eloquent preacher would find in the end that God really meant what He said.

THE passage gives an extraordinary description of enthusiastic listeners urging their friends to come and enjoy Ezekiel's ministry. Through no fault of his own the prophet had become a major attraction to his fellow Jews. They thronged to hear him as if they were being given free sessions by a greatly gifted entertainer.

A lesser man would have been highly gratified. All of us who preach tend to enjoy the enthusiastic appreciation of our hearers. The real test of our messages, however, is not the volume of praises from those who hear us but the practical response of obedience which our words have produced. In the case of Ezekiel there was no response at all of this kind. The people heard the words but they did not obey them.

I do not know which is worse, to have my preaching denounced and rejected, as happened to Jeremiah, or to have it smothered by insincere plaudits and congratulations, as occurred in the case of Ezekiel. In fact there is little difference. What values can there be if the glory is all for men and none for God? The persecuted prophet in Israel and the celebrated prophet among the captivity, being both men of God, must have been heart-broken to see no vital change in their hearers. Perhaps in Ezekiel's case it was even more tragic, since the people made him the topic of their conversation and flocked to listen to him, blithely ignoring the solemn warnings which he gave them in the Lord's name. Mass excitement will not save people. Clapping and cheering will not prevent the divine judgment. "Come it will!"

THANK God that it was not all heartbreak. Both men were privileged to foretell better days and a New Covenant. If the predicted judgments were sure for the insincere congregations, the promised blessings to obedient penitents would be even more sure.

MEANWHILE let no messengers of Christ be complacent just because they get a good hearing and receive appreciative tributes. Let them rather pray and work that their hearers should not just be entertained but be radically transformed.


[Back cover]

Titus 2:11-12

Printed by The Invil Press, 4/5 Brownlow Mews, London WC1N 2LD -- Telephone: 01-242 7454

  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological
  • Topical
  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological
  • Topical
  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological
  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological