In ch.5 our Lord has dealt with the scribe, in that He has expounded upon the law with which the scribes, in particular, were so familiar. Now, in ch.6 He will deal with the Pharisees. Their title described them as "separatists" and no doubt some were sincere, as, for instance, Nicodemus and Saul of Tarsus. But in the main they had a "Holier-than-thou" disposition, and they were hypocrites. They loved outward show and ceremony and the praise of men. Jesus condemns their hypocrisy in three spheres. They gave alms, they prayed, and they fasted. These were all good exercises but were done with the wrong motives. They loved to be seen of men, these Pharisees. But that was their only reward.
Take heed in the matter of almsgiving, says the Lord Jesus. It is right that we should remember the needy and be ready to help them. Almsgiving is to be commended but do it quietly and sincerely, before God, and not trumpeting your giving in the synagogue or in the street like the Pharisee. The Father will see in secret what you give, and what is done in secret with a right motive, He will in due time reward accordingly.
In the matter of prayer also, the disciples were not to be like these hypocrites. Nor were they to be like the heathen. The hypocritical Pharisee prayed standing in the synagogue, or at the corner of the street to be seen by as many men as possible. The Pharisee in the parable of Luke ch.18 is perhaps an example. "He prayed thus with himself. But true prayer is a spiritual exercise and the spiritual man will engage in prayer in the privacy of his own room and will commune with the Father in solitude. As for the heathen, they engaged in a repetitive chanting. Repetition of requests is not at all forbidden. It was to the vain incantations of the heathen that our Lord referred. His disciples were not to pray like that.
Indeed, the Master would suggest to them a model prayer. It was not, of course, to be used in the empty repetitive manner which He has just condemned, and in which it is used in much of Christendom today. The Saviour never intended that, but rather gave it to His disciples as an example. Their praying should be characterised by this same brevity and beauty, by intimacy and dignity, by simplicity and sincerity. In this manner, and in a spirit of dependency, they speak to God. It is a great privilege that we should be permitted to address God in simple child-like trust, and these are the guiding principles when we do so.
We should come as children to a Father, saying, "Our Father". We should come as subjects to a Sovereign, saying, "Thy kingdom come". We should speak as servants to a Master, saying, "Thy will be done". We should be as dependants before a Beneficiary, saying, "Give us our daily bread". We should be as debtors coming to a Creditor, saying "Forgive us our debts". We should speak as pilgrims to a Guide, saying, "Lead us". And in it all we should sincerely and primarily desire His glory and not our own How different to the proud Pharisees and to the heathen should the followeis of the Saviour be.
Then there was the matter of fasting The Pharisees, when fasting, were deliberately downcast in their countenances They disfigured their faces It was evident to all that they were fasting They had to be seen to be fasting and in being seen they had all the reward they might expect, the admiration of men The spiritual man might at times abstain from food and from things legitimate, but not in that kind of religious, ceremonial manner Rather, he would sometimes be so taken up with divine things that food could become an irrelevance Fasting-would not be a religious imposition but simply a corollary of intense occupation with things spiritual For such there would be no praise of men, but the Father would see and would compensate accordingly.
In the matter of treasures, Matthew writes more often than Mark, Luke or John He speaks of treasures that are eternal, and of those that are temporal Some are moral, some are dispensational, and some ministerial The treasures of the wise men are the first reference to such (ch2.11) Here in ch 6.19-20 are the next references Earthly treasure is vulnerable to thieves, to moth, and to rust Treasure in heaven is not so It is prudent therefore to have our hearts in heaven and our treasure there also.
Worldly matters will call us There are sights and sounds around us which will make demand of us constantly, but it is good to have a single eye and a sincere motive We cannot be in service to two masters and the believer will desire to be wholeheartedly for God.
Now if we are truly God's servants we may safely rely dependently upon Him for the meeting of our recurring needs He feeds the birds of the air and He clothes the flower of the field, and why then are we, His children, so often so full of care about food and raiment Not even Solomon, in all his glory, was clothed as gloriously as God clothes the lily The birds neither sow nor reap, nor fill granaries, but they are provided for by Him who observes even the fall of a sparrow This does not, of course, sanction or encourage a slothfulness which says, "God will provide", and then sits back in idleness The Saviour is rather giving us a safeguard against anxiety and worry The herbage of the field belongs to but a day and tomorrow is gone If God so clothes the transient grass and the fading flower, and so cares for the birds, are His children not more excellent than they? (JND)
Let us rest then in this, that the Father knows and cares It is ours to trust Let us live for Him today and not be anxious about tomorrow Let us seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and the sure promise is that all these things will be added to us The unbelieving man is ambitious for treasure, for glory, for food, for raiment The word to the believer is, "Be anxious for nothing" (Phil 4.19) "Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you" (1Pet 5.7)
This will be- followed by more direct Divine visitation: "I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood, and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain and great hailstones, fire and brimstone" (Ezek.38.22). Such, proud Russia, will be the end of thy mighty hosts in the day when thy hand is lifted up against the people of the Lord! As in the days of Joshua, Jehovah cast down great stones from heaven upon the enemy, and as in Deborah's time the very stars in their courses fought against Sisera, so will it be in the day to come. His thunderbolts will work fearful havoc amongst the enemies of His people (Josh.10.11; Judges 5.20). The very windows of heaven will be opened, as it were, to pour down destruction upon them.
Who can stand when God rises up? Frail, yet daring, man may assemble all his might, and kings and rulers may take counsel together, but the blast of the Almighty's nostrils is sufficient to scatter them all. Yet the lesson is never really learned, so evil and deceitful is the heart of man. In the Russian hordes, Jehovah will magnify and sanctify Himself, and all the nations shall know that He is Jehovah.
Immediately following this tremendous overthrow, will go forth a summons to the fowls and beasts to feast upon the slain: "And, thou, son of man, thus saith the Lord God: Speak unto every feathered fowl and to every beast of the field, Assemble yourselves and come; gather yourselves on every side to My sacrifice that I do sacrifice for you, even a great sacrifice upon the mountains of Israel, thafye may eat flesh and drink blood. Ye shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth, of rams, of lambs, and of goats, of bullocks, all of them fatlings of Bashan; and ye shall eat fat till ye be full, and drink blood till ye be drunken, of My sacrifice which I have sacrificed for you. Thus ye shall be filled at My table with horses and chariots, with mighty men, and with all men of war, saith the Lord God" (Ezek.39.17-20).
What fearful scenes of judgment and desolation this poor earth is to witness before everything settles down into the holy calm and rest of Messiah's reign! Only a little while before this ghastly summons, a similar call will be made to the fowls of the heavens to feast upon the carcases of the Western armies, under the leadership of the beast and the false prophet (Rev.19.17-20); now they are invited to gorge themselves with the Russian hosts. Is this what Russia is training her vast armies for at the present time? Terrible thought! fearful contemplation!
So numerous will be the weapons left upon the field, that the children of Israel will not need to cut firewood for seven years afterwards. A solemn lesson of righteous retribution, surely, before all eyes during the opening years of the millennium! "And they that dwell'in the cities of Israel shall go forth, and shall set on fire and burn the weapons, both the shields and the bucklers, the bows and the arrows, and the handstaves and the spears, and they shall burn them with fire seven years, so that they shall take no wood out of the field, neither cut down any out of the forests, for they shall burn the weapons with fire, and they shall spoil those that spoiled them and rob those that robbed them, saith the Lord God" (Ezek.39.9-10). Little do the superintendents of the Muscovite arsenals know the ultimate future of the vast stores under their hands.
After the birds and the beasts have performed their ghastly work, there will be nothing but bones to bury, but this will be a gigantic task. The whole house of Israel will be engaged some seven months in this dismal service. Gog will come up thinking to possess lands and much spoil, but will only find a grave: "And it shall come to pass in that day that I will give Gog a place there of graves in Israel, the valley of the passengers on the east of the sea, and it shall stop the passengers, and there shall they bury Gog and all his multitude, and they shall call it the valley of Hamon-gog. And seven months shall the house of Israel be burying of them, that they may cleanse the land, yea, all the people of the land shall bury them, and it shall be to them a renown the day that I shall be glorified, saith the Lord God" (v.11-13).
There was no need to insert the word "noses" in verse 11 in the Authorised Version. The Revised Version omits the word. The addition of it obscures the sense. It is not so much that there will be an offensive smell as that this vast burying operation will cause all who pass by to stop and consider. Thus will God read a solemn lesson to many. His own people, as they pause and behold, may well say: "So let all Thine enemies perish, O Lord; but let them that love Him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might" (Judges 5.31).
The seven months will not be sufficient to purge the land entirely, at the expiration of that time a staff of men will be told to complete the work. The land is to be Jehovah's land, and glory is to dwell there; therefore nothing inconsistent with His holy presence, however apparently trivial, must be allowed to remain. "And they shall sever out men of continual employment, passing through the land to bury with the passengers those that remain upon the face of the earth, to cleanse it; after the end of seven months shall they search. And the passengers that pass through the land, when any seeth a man's bone, then shall he set up a sign by it, till the buriers have buried it in the valley of Hamon-gog. And also the name of the city shall be Hamonah. Thus shall they cleanse the land" (Ezek.39.14-16). Thus all who move about in the land will be expected to co-operate in the work of cleansing by setting a mark against stray bones that meet their eyes, that everything offensive may be completely removed. A bone is quite sufficient to defile the land in the eyes of Jehovah, as Num.19.16-18 shows.
Jehovah will then carry the war into the invader's own land: "And I will send a fire on Magog, and among them that dwell carelessly in the isles, and they shall know that I am Jehovah" (Ezek.39.6). We cannot tell precisely what form this will take; it is sufficient to know that God will not only overthrow Gog's hosts, but devastate his land in retributive judgment. Such is the future of Russia according to the word of the Lord by Ezekiel.
The horse was not a common means of transport in Nehemiah's time, more a leading part of the military force deployed by contemporary major powers With the first group of Jews returning under Zerubbabel, although there were 6,720 asses, only 736 horses are referred to, the latter obviously being very much of a prestige mount As the Proverbs writer puts it, "The horse is prepared against the day of battle" Prov 21 31 Nehemiah, of his early reconnoitring says, "I went on to the gate of the fountain and to the king's pool, but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass" Neh 2 14.
So even if he had wanted to engage his enemies in battle he would have been unable to deploy his primary offensive forces, the cavalry, the way was blocked.
We may often feel ourselves to be in much the same state as far as spiritual warfare is concerned We want to engage the opposition because unless and until we do, we are unable to offer and share the blessings which we ourselves are enjoying We might well be tempted to introduce all sorts of novel methods for breaking the blockade, to remove the encumbrances Such attempts will however prove counter-productive, only serving to make evident our own inadequacies, and who will accept, or expect, help from proven incompetents.
But the warning shot across our bows comes from the Lord Jesus, "Without Me ye can do nothing', John 15 5 Paul, although conscious of his own personal inadequacy, could still say "I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me", Phil 4 13 He asks the Corinthians, "Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?" 1Cor 9 7 As and when the Lord Jesus asks, or instructs, us to engage in His battles, He will, with the commission, provide the wherewithal to carry it out The detail of that wherewithal is impressive "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds", 2Cor 10 4 The apostle lists, Eph 6 14-17, some elements of that weaponry and in that context puts double emphasis on an essential factor in the equation "Put on the whole armour of God", vl 1 "Take unto you the whole armour of God" v13 It is there for you, take it and use it The only way that we will be sure of the armour's usefulness and applicability to today's battles is by putting it to the test, by proving it.
David was not prepared to risk going into battle with unproven armour, however good its credentials, 1 Sam 17 38-39, and neither should we Prove it, it will be found invincible, then there will be assured confidence in putting it to use It will enable you "to stand against the wiles of the devil — to withstand in the evil day and having done all, to stand", v11-13.
But before we rush enthusiastically out to battle, we must be sure that we know precisely who the enemy is. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood". Our aim is to share blessings-with men, women and young people, they are not the enemy even if they are sometimes duped into being his agents. "But against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places", vl2. Do we think that either individually or collectively we can cope with battles against such forces?
The facilities for us to do so are there but it is for us to arm ourselves with them.
Having identified the enemy and the means available to us, we can return to the main purpose of mission, which is reaching out, not striking out. Opposition needs a response but we are endeavouring not only to deal with error but to assist in rescuing individuals from it. This brings us to "the fish gate" v3.
vii) The Fish Gate, v3.
Most of us can probably remember from choruses, the promises of the Lord Jesus that 'I will make you fishers of men'. The actual words of scripture are "come ye after me and I will make you to become fishers of men", Mk.1 .17. So it was, like many others in scripture, a conditional promise. We will never be able to experience its real outworking unless and until we fulfil the condition. We can never expect to be able to convince others to follow someone whom we are evidently not closely following ourselves.
Peter and Andrew, to whom this particular promise was first made, were self-employed fishermen. They needed, as we all do, support both for themselves and their dependants. But here was an opportunity transcending anything they had ever done or even imagined themselves doing. "And straightway they forsook their nets and followed him", Mk.l.18. So they fulfilled the condition, but do not think that that is easily done, that it will not cost anything. "Buy the truth and sell it not" Prov.23.23, shows that the getting of truth into your heart and soul will cost you in time and effort. In the language of economics, do not try to calculate the opportunity cost i.e. what else you might have spent such time and effort on. Do not sell out, you will be the loser. There is nothing worthwhile to offer people in fishing but the truth and if we let it go, for whatever else, there is no other opportunity for reaching out. This emphasises once again, and from a different angle, the need for inner preparation, both individually and collectively, before attempting external activities.
What is to happen though to those brought into blessing by our fishing? Their conversion, which is the start of real blessing, is the beginning of an ongoing relationship between them and the Lord Jesus and between them and us. The post resurrection commission to the disciples was "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations". That is certainly something beyond seeing them saved, disciples has to do with discipline, disciplined obedience. Obedience to whom and to what? "Baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit". What did believers understand by baptism before the teaching on the subject given in Rom.6.3-5? Those baptised by John Baptist were given evidence that they had accepted his teaching and discipline and were his disciples, John 4.1. At Corinth, where Christians were claiming adherence to individuals, e.g. Paul, Apollos and Cephas, Paul himself went out of his way to ensure that virtually no-one could say that they had been baptised by him as if to make disciples for himself, 1Cor.1.12-26. Baptism today, in addition to the Roman epistle's teaching, still includes the signifying of obedience to, and discipleship of, the one in whose name the individual is baptised. We often refer to it as being done in obedience to the command of the Lord Jesus and as a testimony of that to onlookers. The command here though is actually not to the one being baptised but to the baptiser, as a follow-on to 'making disciples'.
That instruction to the fisher, the successful fisher, goes on. "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have enjoined you" Matt.28.19-20. We are not fishing to put the fish caught into a keep-net, nor to throw them back, or to let them slip back, through want of a suitable, friendly, safe environment. As individual fishers we may not feel capable of such full-orbed teaching but we should see to it that converts are guided to a place where such teaching can be given, and the assembly should be able to fulfil such a role.
Does that mean though that once converts are passed on, the fisher has no more responsibility or concern for them? That was certainly not how Paul viewed things. He wanted very much to reach out into the unevangelised areas, 2Cor 10.14-16, but, as shown in his letters, he continued to have a heart concern for his earlier converts, 2Cor.7.12 & 11.28. That said, he was only too willing to see similar care offered by others, 2Cor 8.16 and to commend individuals to such a task, Phil.2.20. He still looked forward to a time when he would be able to share full enjoyment with those who had been looked after by others, 1 Thess.2.19 & Phil.4.1.
Reverting back to fishing as an illustration of evangelising, think of the early days of the resurrect ion when the Lord Jesus met seven of the disciples by the sea of Tiberias. He had ample food in preparation for them, John 21.9 but He still says, "Bring of the fish which ye have now caught" v10. When all are gathered round the throne in heaven, not only will we, as believers, be there, but so will any and all of those whom we were used, as fishers, to bring to the Lord Jesus. Those cold times of fishing will then be proved to have been eminently worthwhile. Not only will the Lord Jesus see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied, Isa.53.11, but we too will find that our labour was not in vain in the Lord, 1Cor.15.58.
So we have considered both inreach and outreach, the latter viewed both as battling and fishing. How can we be sure though of just what sphere of operations the Lord Jesus wants us to personally undertake. 'Some people seem free and competent to engage in a wide range of activities, but what about me?' There was still another gate, called Miphkad, v31, which means assignment or designated/appointed place.
It is a remarkable fact that in the book of Genesis the lives of many men of God centred around a single feature. In the case of Adam it was his trees.
The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
'And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die' (Gen.2.16-17). It is said by some that this was not a real tree but merely a symbol. But a symbol cannot be the means of an act of disobedience. An act of disobedience is real, therefore the tree must be real. Popular belief, in its usual inaccurate manner, says it was an apple tree. But the scriptures are silent on this point and the type of fruit is irrelevant. The tree became the tree of the knowledge of good and evil when it became Adam's test-piece. The test concerned the crucial issue, would man live in obedient harmony with his Maker or go his own selfish way? It was not the act of disobedience which was so far-reaching, it was the attitude behind the act, the attitude of rebellion against God. By this act Adam experienced the vital difference between good and evil. 'And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of Us, to know good and evil' (Gen.3.22). As a fruit tree it was real, as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil it became the symbol of the birth of sin, 'For sin is the transgression of the law' (1John3.4).
The Tree of Life
'The tree of life also in the midst of the garden' (Gen.2.9). The result of Adam's act of disobedience was death, 'For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die' (Gen.2.17). But this was not physical death, for Adam lived to a ripe old age (Gen.5.5). This was that spiritual death which is separation from the presence of God, 'So He drove out the man' (Gen.3.24). This is the fate of all disobedient sinners, 'That obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord' (2Thess.1.8-9). Thus Adam was denied access to the tree of life which speaks of eternal life. 'And the LORD God said, Behold, the man has become as one of Us to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden ... and He placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life' (Gen.3.22-24). Further mentions of the tree of life in scripture show it to be a picture of eternal life. It is said to grow in the paradise of God (Rev.2.7, 22.2 and 14). But believers will not come to possess eternal life in a future day by eating of its fruit, because the believer already possesses eternal life by virtue of the present gift of life in the risen Son of God. 'God hath given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life . . . These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life' (1 John 5.11-13). That the tree of life grows in the paradise of God is indicative of the literal fact that there the believer will enjoy the full fruits of life eternal. 'Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepiared for them that love Him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit' (1 Cor. 2.9-10).
The Fig Tree
Yet another tree figured in the life of Adam. It was from a fig tree that the disobedient pair made a covering for their sense of shame before God, which arose from their sin. 'They sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons' (Gen.3.7). As soon as sin revealed itself, God revealed the remedy for the shame of sin's guilt. The remedy was not to be found in nature, the leaves of the fig tree. The remedy was not to be found in human effort, the making of aprons, whatever man may do to try and cover his sin. The remedy was in the shedding of blood, the laying down of a life to pay that penalty of death (Gen.2.17) which is the result of the broken commandment. 'Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins (an animal slain), and clothed them' (Gen.3.21).
This was the first type of the One who was to make an end of sin's guilt on another tree. 'Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree' (1 Pet.2.24).
This third recorded day of service in the life of the Lord Jesus commenced with the Master calling the disciples to come apart and rest for a little time. They had been busily engaged in His service as He had sent them out to preach and to cast out demons. What days of service these were, never to be forgotten! Over and over again the sick were healed, the demons were cast out and the preaching of repentance was loudly heard in the land. At the end of this preaching tour they return to the Lord Jesus full of stories to tell, anxious to hear what the others had been doing and hoping to find time alone with the Master so that they could relive these days as they speak of them together. Can we not recognise the feelings of their hearts? When we have passed through memorable days we also like to recount them over again and savour once more the thrill of what we have been through.
It-must therefore have been with considerable delight that they heard the Lord Jesus tell them to travel over with Him to a deserted place. Not only would they be able to speak of their preaching tour, but they will be able to enjoy once again the presence of the Master. To be alone with Him for a full day would add to their store of precious memories. And so they set sail privately, careful to let no one into their secret, and full of anticipation for what lay ahead.
But they were seen! On arrival at their destination the crowds were waiting. This was to be a day of unwelcome company. There is no suggestion that the Lord Jesus regarded the presence of the crowd as unwelcome, but the disciples must have felt a sense of frustration. Had they not given enough time to the multitudes? Could they not be left alone for one day?
Is this not a day which we all recognise? We often lay out our plans, careful to ensure that we will have time alone with the Lord, but others crowd in around us and upset our timetable. How do we react to this? The disciples must learn that they have to be instant in season and out of season. The service of the Master often takes up time which we had planned for other purposes. When this occurs we will not give over to anger, but accept that our times are in His hands. He introduces into our days circumstances to test us and to enable us to bring blessing to others.
It is worthy of note that this was also, for the disciples, a day of unrecognised opportunity. As the day drew on they are quick to say to the Lord 'Send them away'. Food was necessary for the multitude, and the large sum of money necessary to buy food for the vast number obviously made such a purchase out of the question. Their quick departure would be a relief. The multitude can take care of its own needs and it may still be possible for them to use the little part of the day which remains for an hour or two alone with Him. But the Master has other things in mind. What the disciples regard as an intrusion, He sees as an opportunity. What they see as spoiling their day is to Him a time to have compassion on the needy.
How many opportunities do you let slip past because you are too busy to take advantage of Ihem, or simply because you do not recognise them? The disciples are learning that each situation in which they are placed must be looked at to see opportunities to serve. Even a day where everything seemed to go wrong, and plans were frustrated was still a day where opportunities had to be recognised. Our interruption is His opportunity.
One further lesson remains for them to learn. When the even was come they launch out to cross the lake while He remains praying on the mountain. As they toil in rowing they are faced with a contrary wind and as a result find progress impossible. The frustrations of the early part of the day were only the start. What a day this has been, when nothing seems to have gone right. Like us, they know that days which we regard as having staited badly seem sometimes to remain that way right through.
Despite their best efforts they can make no headway. It is not that they were indolent, because all the energy which they could muster was being used. It is not that they had been discouraged and had given up, because they toiled right through until the fourth watch of the night. The problem was something beyond their control. The contrary wind could not be changed by their efforts, and as long as it blew they would make no progress. What, then, was the problem? Was it not that they did not call on Him for help? This was a time of unused resources. Those who had not considered that the Lord Jesus could help a hungry multitude now have no thought of Him helping them. For the second time that day they do not realise where help can be found. Even when it comes and they see Him walking on the waves they do not recognise that assistance is at hand. In fear they cry out supposing that what they see is a spirit.
In days like these, we too can have hard hearts. The pressure of events takes our hearts away fiom the Master and we become so preoccupied with our difficulties that we forget what He can do for us. They did not remember the feeding of the thousands, even though it had taken place only a few hours before. How quickly we forget the blessings which He has bestowed upon us. The answers to the problems of the past are put out of our minds as we face the enormity of our present difficulties.
But the Christ who saw the multitude and had compassion on them was the Christ who saw them toiling on the water. The disciples who had only been irritated because of the desire of the Master to help others, find that they themselves are now to be helped. Would they have liked to have been sent away in their time of need as they asked Him to do to others? The Lord Jesus could well have continued His journey over the waves if the purpose simply was to reach the other side. The journeys of this Servant, however, always had other purposes in view apart from reaching a destination. Blessing to others is what He brings as He journeys, and this dark night was no exception. As He comes aboard their boat He brings cheer and dispels fear.
Let us be willing pupils of the Teacher. He delights to reveal Himself in blessing and is waiting for our cry to Him as we row through the storms of life.
In our last study, we began to look at 1 Timothy 3.8-13 with reference to the qualities and qualifications required in deacons. We suggested that the passage could be summarised as follows:
The attitude of the servant, v8-9;
The approval for service, v10;
The activities of sisters, v11;
The authority at home;
The achievement through service, v13.
We have already considered the first of these, which brings us to:
B) Approval for service
"And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless" v10.
It is important to clarify the words, "And let them use the office of a deacon". This is elsewhere rendered, 'let them serve as deacons', RV, or simply 'let them serve', JND. There are no 'offices' in the church! See also 3.1, where JND reads, 'If any one inspires to oversight', as opposed to the AV, "If a man desire the office of a bishop". Surprisingly enough, the RV keeps the overseer office-bound!
The words, "Let these also first be proved", introduce a new factor in the chapter. There was no such requirement in connection with overseers. In that case, the man is recognised for the work that he is already doing. When Paul says here, "Let these also be proved", he is not referring to a probationary period, implying that someone has to do the job for a time to see if he is fit to do it permanently! Service is committed to people who have already proved their fitness to do it. We have ample illustrations of this in the New Testament:
In connection with temporal service. See, again, Acts 6: "Look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost, and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business", v3. So even temporal matters require spirituality. Notice 1Cor.16.3 and 2Cor.8.19-22. These passages exemplify 1Tim.3.10: "And let these also first be proved (approved: proved to approve): then let them minister, being found blameless". The words, "being found blameless", mean 'cannot be called into account'. (A different word is used in v2). Imagine, for example, the dangers of appointing an assembly treasurer who is known to be "given to much wine", and "greedy of filthy lucre'"
In connection with spiritual service. This can be best illustrated by reference to Timothy himself "Then came he (Paul) to Derbe and Lystra and, behold, a certain disciple was there named Timotheus which was well reported of by i he brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium" Acts 16 1-2 Imagine listening to Bible teaching in the assembly from a man who does not hold "the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience'" Great care is required to ensure that sound teaching is given by sound men
C) Activities of sisters
"Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things" v11 Notice the RV here, 'women in like manner", and this is supported by JND Whilst not all agree, Paul is evidently referring here to sisters who serve in connection with the assembly We have an example in Phebe "I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea", Rom 16.1
It is significant that women are introduced here, and not in v1-7 Sisters certainly serve in the assembly, but they do not oversee the assembly, although it has been said, perhaps with some justification, that in some places they attempt to do so through their husbands' All sane and sensible brothers will gladly agree that there is service in the assembly which only sisters can properly undertake See, for example Tit 2 4, where older sisters are charged with the responsibility of helping younger sisters in their personal and domestic lives Spiritually-minded sisters are a tremendous asset to any assembly It is a nonsense to relegate them to providing conference teas, and washing up afterwards!
Women who serve in connection with the assembly are to be marked by the same dignity described in v8, and the same vigilance described in v2 Notice, "not slanderers" The word is 'diabolos', and is frequently used in the New Testament to describe Satan in his role as the accuser — the Devil We must all, brother or sister, whatever our role in the assembly, be careful not to do his work for him C H Spurgeon warned against people who 'drink tea, and talk vitriol!'
D) Authority at home
"Let the deacons be the husband of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well", v12 These injunctions were given in v2 and v4 respectively, with reference to overseers The word "rule" here (and in v4) does not demand despotic behaviour' It means, simply, 'to stand before', with a view to leading One thing is very clear indeed, the qualities required in those who serve in the assembly, are no less than those required in those who care for the assembly
E) Achievement through service
"For they that have used the office of a deacon well ('those who shall have ministered well' JND) purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus" v13 Faithful service yields two results
Publicly. They procure a "good degree" The words, "purchase to themselves a good degree", are in what is called, 'the middle voice', and can be rendered, 'gain to themselves a good standing' The word "degree", means 'a step' and carries the idea of a stage (not promotion) in a career It means to gain a standing to be held in honour and esteem A similar idea occurs in 4 15, "Meditate upon these things, give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting (progress) may appear to all"
Personally. "And great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus" The word "boldness" means, literally, freedom of speech, and "came, in general usage, to be understood as that confidence or courage that lay behind the freedom of speech", J Allen Their faithfulness will enable them to speak with assurance and confidence "in (the) faith which is in Christ Jesus"
We must pray that God will continue to provide men who will care for the local assembly, and men and women who will serve in the assembly Perhaps we don't pray in this way as much as we should.
From the distant past when every Israelite was allocated a portion of land, according to Num.26.52-56, the principal occupation was farming which embraced the growing of crops besides the rearing of cattle and sheep. Consequently, people were familiar with a shepherd's work when a prophet, or Christ, or an apostle applied it for spiritual teaching.
Although most farms were small, a few were large. This is evident from 1Sam.21.7 (JND) where a passing reference is made to "Doeg, the Edomite, chief of the shepherds that belonged to Saul". Apparently, on this farm, there was the chief shepherd over many shepherds who tended numerous sheep. A large sheep farm, such as this, seems to be the under-lying imagery of 1Pet.5.1-9. The apostle Peter alludes to shepherds and their work with the sheep and how they reported to the chief shepherd when he made a periodical inspection of the flocks, besides referring indirectly to the danger of a lion roaming among the sheep. From this way of life on a large sheep farm in olden times, Peter brings out divine truths concerning eldership in an assembly.
"The elders", whom Peter addresses in this paragraph, are told to "feed the flock of God" (vv1f). Although not stated specifically, the statement clearly implies that elders are spiritual shepherds of an assembly which is the flock of God. The qualifications for eldership are neither secular nor academic attainments, but elders should be men of mature spiritual experience and understanding. The exhortation is , not to one elder but to "the elders" which denotes a plurality of elders in an. assembly as it was in Ephesus where Paul called "the elders of the church", Acts 20.17. Concerning the elders, Peter adds "which are among you", signifying that they are not above but are among, and part of, the flock even as "I", says Peter an apostle, 1.1, "also an elder", v1. What an example of humility to them!
Feed the flock of God which is among you", v2, says this elder to the other elders. His exhortation seems to echo the risen Lord's words to him some 30 years earlier, "Feed My lambs", and "Feed My sheep", John 21,15f. Apparently, Peter had heeded his Lord's command. Do we hearken to the Lord through His Word? The responsibility of the elders as shepherds is illustrated by the shepherd wha walks ahead-of his flock on the Judean hills looking for good pasture. While going in advance of his flock, he grubs out with his mattock poisonous plants to burn, leaving only grass for the sheep to graze. This precaution ensures they will come to no physical harm from grazing wrongly and they will partake of only grass that nourishes them. Similarly, elders should make sure the right and nourishing spiritual food is given to the sheep in public ministry so that the flock will "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of (the) Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ", 2Pet.3.18. Not only wrong food but also irregular supplies will stultify spiritual growth. Hence, regularity in attending ministry meetings and in personal study of the scriptures by believers is an important factor for "growing in the knowledge of God", Col. 1.10, lit.
In the phrase "the flock of God", there is no suggestion of the flock belonging to the elders. If it were so, the apostle would have said to the elders, 'your flock'. Clearly, the flock belongs to God and not to men, which still applies today. As the epistle is addressed not to one assembly in a named city but to believers scattered throughout five provinces of Asia Minor, 1.1, "the flock" are words used of several assemblies. In contrast, at Ephesus there was only one assembly which is also called "the flock", Acts 20.28.
"Taking the oversight" of the sheep, without assuming a position over them, says Peter to the elders. For discharging the duties of eldership, three negative warnings are given and each one is followed by positive advice. First, "not by constraint" or in no sense of coercion should they function, "but willingly" with an impulse of love for the flock. Second, "not for filthy lucre"; not for financial gain as in a career, "but of a ready mind", v2, being always willing and eager to help the flock.
From the present, Peter now turns to the future and says to the elders, "when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away". The day will dawn when the chief Shepherd will come and review the pastoral work of the shepherds who will receive a crown of glory for good work but not for worthless. The word "crown" denotes a "garland" such as that made of oak, myrtle and other leaves, which soon faded, awarded to successful competitors in the games at Corinth and elsewhere. But elders will be awarded a garland of glory that will neither wilt nor wither. The chief Shepherd's review of elders' pastoral work and His giving of rewards is an aspect of that time when "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" for His assessment of our works since our conversion, 2Cor.5.10.
For the closing scene of this paragraph, the writer returns to the flock on the hills and the dangers it may face. "Be sober, be vigilant" — be alert spiritually, so the elders, functioning as shepherds, are told. The reason for this warning follows: "because your adversary the devil as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour", v8. In tending his flock, a shepherd had always to be watchful for a lion straying among the sheep ready to attack and kill. Believers have an adversary, identified here as the devil. Whilst there are innumerable demons, there is only one devil; the word means 'accuser', and he is always ready to accuse them before God. He is likened to a roaring lion — a lion roars when it is hungry and about to pounce upon its prey. As a roaring lion, the devil roams among believers, unknown to them, looking for those whom he may attack. "Whom resist", says Peter to believers who are attacked. No suggestion of succumbing to the devil. Similarly, James, 4.7, says, "resist the devil, and he will flee from you". For putting this fearful foe to flight, fight him! For the conflict, "put on the whole armour of God", Eph.6.11, and stand "steadfast in the faith", 1Pet.5.9.
"He hath made us accepted in the beloved". Eph.1.6, "Wherefore we labour, that whether present or absent, we may be acceptable to him". 2Cor.5.9.
The two, words which form the heading of this paper, though rendered by the same word in our Authorized Version, are not at all the same. The former has respect to the person of the believer, the latter to his practical ways. That refers to his standing, this to his state. It is one thing to be accepted; it is quite another to be acceptable. The former is the fruit of God's free grace to us as sinners; the latter is the fruit of our earnest labour as saints, though, most surely, it is only by grace we can do anything.
It is well that the Christian reader should thoroughly understand the distinction between these two things. It will preserve him effectively from legality, on the one hand, and laxity on the other. It remains unalterably true of all believers, that God hath made them accepted in the Beloved. Nothing can ever touch this. The very feeblest lamb in all the flock stands accepted in a risen Christ. There is no difference. The grace of God has placed them all on this high and blessed ground. We do'not labour to be accepted. It is all the fruit of God's free grace. He found us all alike dead in trespasses and sins. We were morally dead — far off from God, hopeless, Godless, Christless — children of wrath, whether Jews or Gentiles. But Christ died for us, and God has co-quickened, co-raised, and co-seated us in Christ, and made us accepted in Him.
This is the inalienable, eternal, standing of all, without exception, who believe in the name of the Son of God. Christ, in His infinite grace, placed Himself judicially where we were morally, and having put away our sins, and perfectly satisfied, on our behalf, the claims of divine righteousness,-God entered the scene, and raised Him from the dead, and with Him all His members, as seen in His own eternal purpose, and to be called in due time, and brought into the actual possession and enjoyment of the marvellous place of blessing and privilege, by the effectual operation of the Holy Ghost.
Well, thereiore, may we take up the opening words of the Epistle to the Ephesians, and say, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ. According as he hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love; having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the beloved". All praise to His name throughout the everlasting ages!
All believers, then, are accepted — perfectly and for ever accepted — in the Beloved. God sees them in Christ, and as Christ. He thinks of them as He thinks of Him; loves them as He loves Him. They are ever before Him, in perfect acceptance in the blessed Son of His love, nor can anything, or any one, ever interfere with this their high and glorious position, which rests on the eternal stability of the grace of God, the accomplished work of His Son, and attested by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.
But are all believers acceptable in their practical ways? Are all so carrying themselves as that their dealings and doings will bear the light of the judgment-seat of Christ? Are all labouring to be agreeable to Him?
Christian reader, these are serious questions. Let us solemnly weigh them. Let us not turn away from the sharp edge of plain practical truth. The blessed apostle knew he was accepted. Did that make him lax, careless, or indolent? Far from it. "We labour", he says, "to be acceptable to Him". The sweet assurance that we are accepted in Him is the ground of our labour to be acceptable to Him. "The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead. And He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them and rose again". 2Cor.v14-15.
All this is preeminently practical. We are called upon, by every argument which can bear sway over the heart and conscience, to labour diligently to be acceptable to our-blessed and adorable Lord. Is there aught of legality in this? Not the slightest tinge. The very reverse. It is the holy superstructure of a devoted life, erected on the solid foundation of our eternal election and perfect acceptance in a risen and glorified Christ at God's right hand. How could there be the very smallest atom of legality here? Utterly impossible. It is all the pure fruit of God's free and sovereign grace from first to last.
But ought we not, beloved Christian reader, to rouse ourselves to attend to the claims of Christ as to practical righteousness? Should we not zealously and lovingly aim at giving Him pleasure? Are we to content ourselves with vapidly taking about our acceptance in Christ, while at the same time there is no real earnest care as to the acceptability of our ways? God forbid! Yea, let us so dwell upon the rich grace that shines in the acceptance of our persons, that we may be led out in diligent and fervent effort to be found acceptable in our ways.
It is greatly to be feared that there is an appalling amount of antinomianism amongst us — an unhallowed traffic in the doctrines of grace, without any godly care as to the application of those doctrines to our practical conduct. How all this is to end, it would be hard to say; but, most assuredly, there is an urgent call upon all who profess to be accepted in Christ to labour fervently to be acceptable to Him.
From my very early childhood the words of Paul about Timothy have applied to my life. 2Tim.3.15, "That from a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make thee wise unto salvation".
I was born under the sound of Twickenham Rugby Ground in Ilesworth, but have never, even in unsaved days, had any interest in sport, but the Scriptures have always interested me.
My grandfather on my father's side was from the village of Leitrimin County Leitrim, Southern Ireland, and although not in assembly fellowship, was born again, and a very faithful witness for Christ. My grandmother too was a godly soul, who made my brother, sister and me promise her on her death bed that we would trust Christ, though at that time the three of us were young and unsaved.
My father too was saved among the Presbyterians, but at the age of 26 saw Assembly truth and came out to meet in fellowship with the believers at Wellington Road Gospel Hall, Hounslow, Middlesex.
My mother, sad to say, came from a home that did not have Christ and I believe she is the only one saved out of a fairly large family.
I can well remember as a boy in Sunday School learning the wonderful stories of the Lord Jesus and his love — we always had something about missionaries thrown in for good measure, and that we must serve Christ.
At the age of seven we left Hounslow and moved to South Wales with my father's work. My parents then meeting with the believers at Ynysybwl near Pontypridd.
I thoroughly enjoyed my new found Welsh freedom that accompanied village life, and although I still went to Sunday School, I became a rebel and nothing was too much of a challenge, especially if it was bad. My brother and I spent much of our spare time at a local farm, so when I left school and the headmaster refused to give me any references because of my bad ways, I went to work on a farm.
When I was 17 I decided to go to the coal mine to work. I got a job with Thyssens the German Mining Contractors at the Lady Windsor Colliery. I now started on a road to make as much money as I could. The Germans' motto was 'Money Talks' and they could get me to do anything as long as money was at the end of it. I've learned since that 'God Talks' and louder than any money.
My life was very sinful to say the least, but for all my sinful ways I always went to the Gospel Meetings. At this time George Hanlon of China and Borneo was holding a series of Gospel Meetings. As I listened one Sunday evening he started to tell us how that in China the beggars maim their own children in order to make them pitiful and professional. That is all I can remember of the message but God spoke to me that night and I trembled on my seat and wanted to get right with God. After the meeting brother Hanion and one of the elders, Mr. David James, and my girlfriend who was with me, went into the back room. Mr. James knew that I understood the Gospel and knew the way of salvation, perhaps that is why they said little to me that I can remember, but they said 'We will all get on our knees and pray'. They prayed and prayed and while they did so, I also on my knees was in turmoil. I wanted God and Christ, but as it went on I wanted self and freedom. That night God and Satan fought in my soul. The brethren did not know this but kept on praying, and ultimately I surrendered in tears and trusted Christ and had my sins forgiven. I went out that night with the burden of not being right with God, lifted.
One night soon after my salvation I was working at the Colliery. We were standing on top of a greasy carfiage in the mine shaft, I had no safety harness on and very little experience, and the pit bottom was about 170 feet below. We were lifting up the sides of the shaft, a cylinder weighing about half a ton. I can remember looking over the side that night, one hand on the greasy chain and one hand on the pulley block rope, my feet on a sheet of grease, yet I knew that if I had plunged to the bottom it would be as Billy Bray of Cornwall had said, 'Sudden death — sudden glory'. That was the assurance of Salvation.
When my old sinful companions drifted away I began to get friendly with believers and they invited me to hear Stan Ford give his testimony in Mackintosh Gospel Hall, Cardiff, one Sunday night after the Gospel Meeting. Brother Stan said at the beginning, 'I don't like speaking about myself I am glad he did, for the next day I was a broken person. I knew I had to do something with my life, not just live to get gain. By now I was a long distance lorry driver and while driving along on the Ross on Wye bypass I cried in tears to God "What you've done for Stan Ford you can do for me; if you can use him, then use me". God took me at my word and started to mould my mind to serve Him.
During my lorry travels I went regularly to Aberdeen and there made a deep friendship with the late dear brother in Christ and evangelist, Harry Burness. What I owe to that little man only heaven can estimate. He truly took me under his wing and was a father that nursed me as a nursing mother does her children, lThess.2.7.1 watched his life,, his preaching, his work and asked more questions than the Queen of Sheba, for he was a Solomon to me, and through it all (though brother Harry never prompted me) I began to get burdened about the Lord's work.
About this time I met my wife Gwyneth and we got married and lived in Cardiff. I was working more locally now but a year or so after we were married I found myself out of work for about three months. I was very low as to this very important step that was burdening me, and was God calling me. I had time to think and pray, the burden to serve God was so heavy I wanted to get rid of it so in frustration one afternoon I said to the Lord 'If this burden is Thine keep it there, if not please remove it". The burden did not go so I had peace that I should step out for God.
My wife and I were" one in our decision to serve the Lord full-time and so we went to the elders at our Assembly at Tavistock Street, Cardiff. They said 'we have been waiting for this call', but I wanted time to prove myself and be thoroughly sure.
I decided it was best for me to get a job, so I went to Wimpeys and asked for work driving their dumper trucks. The foreman promised me a job when the contract started. I realised that with that job, the money would be good but I would have to work long hours and weekends that would interfere with the Lord's work, meeting and speaking engagements. So the next day I went to the Haulage Contractor I first worked for 14 years previously, when for misconduct I had been given instant dismissal. I walked into the office and one of the bosses looked at me and after a minute or so said "Lonney — what do you want"? "A job", I replied. "Sit down", he said, "I sacked a man this morning and il there is work for his lorry you can start this afternoon or tomorrow morning". I knew this was of God after my past record with the firm. I started the next morning and worked happily there for 18 months during which time, while waiting to get loaded, I diligently read my Bible and positively witnessed to fellow lorry drivers, with many of whom I am still in touch. This job left me free at weekends and evenings to continue serving the Lord.
After that 18 months my wife and I stepped out for God and were commended by four South Wales Assemblies to the Grace of God and His Work.
I am very conscience of failings. On one of my trips to Shetland I stopped at Aberdeen to see my dear brother and friend Robert Walker. I remember him saying to me "Frank, I've been this way before (to Shetland that is) and Paul says in lCor.9.27, 'Lest when I have preached to others, I myself shouldbeacastaway'. If Paul realised the possibility of failure in Christian service, then Frank how much more should you and I". By the Grace of God I can in humility and in much weakness say "Having therefore obtained help of God I continue unto this day witnessing both to small and great". Acts 26.22.
Many people think that having riches guarantees happiness. Thus riches have been pursued through gambling in various forms — the latest in Britain being the lottery. This is despite the evidence from those who have become rich, that riches in themselves do not bring true happiness. A look at the lives of the 'stars' of the world of entertainment would easily prove their lack of true joy. Lives of wantonness, alcoholism, broken marriages, disappointed children and even suicide seem to be normal experience.
How and where is true happiness to be found? The Psalmist in the Bible reveals how to be truly happy. Psalm 32.1, "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered". The word "blessed" is plural and means to be happy, thus the writer is saying, "Oh the happinesses of the person whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered". It would be the desire of all right thinking people to have the assurance of such happinesses.
Notice it comes as a result of having transgression forgiven and sin covered. Transgression and sin affect every person. It may be some are outwardly worse than others and some go deeper into sin than others, but it is not the DEGREE of sin, but the FACT of it that needs to be addressed. Transgression is rebellion against God and sin is to go astray or miss the mark. All humanity is in rebellion against God and going astray. Isaiah 53.6, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way". If we continue like this and meet God in such a state, for meet Him we must, we will be banished from His presence and doomed to an eternity in the lake of fire, Revelation 20.15.
No wonder the Psalmist is so happy, because he shall never be under the judgment of God. His transgression is "forgiven" and his sin "covered". "Forgiven" means to take away or carry off. Covered means to be put out of sight, concealed. Who would be strong enough to carry our transgressions all away and who would have the ability to banish our sins from the all seeing eye of God? There is only one glorious Person and He is God's only Son. The word "forgiven" is often translated "bare", for example in Isaiah 53.12, "He (the Lord Jesus Christ) was numbered with the transgressors; and He bare the sin of many". This is seen in picture form in Leviticus chapter 16. There the sins of the people were pictorially placed on a goat and we read in v22, "And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited". This illustrated the work the Lord Jesus did upon the cross at Calvary. He went to the uninhabited land of the judgment of God and from that lonely land He cried, "My God, my God,' why hast Thou forsaken me?" Matt.27.46. There He laid a basis upon which God can righteously forgive and cover all that is foreign to His character and bring the repentant and believing soul into eternal union with Himself.
Only when we trust the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, will we experience the happinesses of the Psalmist. John 3.16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life".