In our introduction, we noticed that the book of Haggai comprises four messages: (1) To reprove their idleness, 1.1-15; (2) To restore their confidence, 2.1-9; (3) To rebuke their unholiness, 2.10-19; (4) To reward their leader, 2.20-23. In this paper we shall commence a consideration of the first message.
1) TO REPROVE THEIR IDLENESS. 1.1-15
"Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia," Ezra 4.24. Unlike the apostles, who faced the prohibition placed upon them with the words, "We ought to obey God rather than men," the Jews meekly accepted the situation. But they certainly did not sit around and do nothing. Although they were barred from working on the temple, there was no shortage of work elsewhere, and they gladly grasped the opportunity to get on with it! After all, circumstances had changed, and it was obvious, to them, that "the time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built." But God did not look at it like that: "Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste?" v4. It wasn't as if they turned reluctantly away from the temple: they ran, with evident enthusiasm, every man unto his own house," v9. They were certainly not "abounding in the work of the Lord," 1Cor. 15.58.
This chapter therefore centres on the rival claims of God's house and their houses. Notice the references to God's house here: "the Lord's house," v2; "this house," v4; "the house," v8; "mine house," v9; "the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, v14. (See also 2.3,7,9).
There is still such a thing as "the house of God." Unlike the temple, it is not now a material building. It is a building of people! See lTim.3.14-15, "These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." The "house of God" today is the local church. Even in the Old Testament, the "house of God" was not always a physical building. See Gen.28.16-17, "And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful.is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." The "house of God" is therefore the place where God dwells. At Bethel, there wasn't a building in sight! Today, convenience demands that we meet in halls of various kinds, but if we were obliged to gather in the open air, perhaps to avoid the attention of hostile authorities, we would still be "house of God," because He is present. Do remember, to quote David Newell, that the local church is 'the people, not the steeple!' We should also remember that the word rendered "church" (ekklesia) is better translated 'assembly.' That is precisely what it means (ek, 'out of,' and klesis, 'a calling'), and how it was used in New Testament times. See, for example, Acts 19.32,39,41. There is nothing denominational about the word 'assembly!'
Since "whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning," Rom.15.4, we can expect some lessons from Hag.ch.l in connection with our assembly life and our assembly work. This is where we should be building. This is where we should concentrate our time and energy. But are we saying, "The time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built?"
As suggested in our introduction, we will divide Hag.l into two sections:
The reproof, v1-11.
The response, v12-15.
a) THE REPROOF, v1-11
We can analyse these verses as follows:
The address, v1;
The admonition, v7;
The advice, v8;
The adversity, v9-11.
i) The address, v1
We should notice the date. In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, in the first day of the month." This was approximately sixteen years after the decree of Cyrus permitting the return of the Jews from Babylon (BC 536). It is a striking reminder that because of Israel's sin and idolatry, God had placed the dominion of the world in Gentile hands. See Lk.21.24, "And Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." Compare Rom.11.25. Events in Jewish history are dated here by reference to a Gentile king. But although this was a sharp reminder of better days in the past, it was not an excuse for their current indolence and disinterest.
We should notice the designation. In the second year of Darius came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet. Haggai means 'festive,' and his ministry anticipates the glorious age of festivity when Israel's Messiah returns to establish His kingdom, see 2.6-9. The true prophet conveyed the word of God, which he had first received by divine revelation. See, for example, Jer.23.18 and Amos 3.7. ("Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets"). This reminds us that "if any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God," lPet.4.11. The true prophet was distinguished by the accuracy of his predictions. See Deut.18.20-22 and Jer.28.9.
We should notice the recipients. They were 'Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah and Joshua the son of Josehech, the high priest." These two men were the civil and religious leaders respectively. Zerubbabel (of royal blood: see 1Chron.3.19 and Matt.1.12-13) was the man in the public eye. Joshua was the man whose ministry took him into the presence of God. This reminds us that we cannot serve in public (our 'princely' character) unless we spend time in God's presence (our 'priestly' character).
The leaders are addressed first. The people are not addressed until the second message: see 2.2. Leadership incurs and involves heavy responsibility. See, for example, Jms.3.1. The two men are mentioned together on five occasions in Haggai (1.1, 12, 14; 2.1, 4), and Zerubbabel is always mentioned first, whereas in Ezra 3.2, Joshua is mentioned first. This emphasises the differing roles of the two leaders. Zerubbabel is named first when the building of the house is mentioned (see also Ezra 5.2), and Joshua is named first when the building of the altar is mentioned. This illustrates the New Testament lesson that "the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given ... to another ... to another," lCor.12.7-11. Each believer has an individual and distinct ministry.
We should notice something else here. Haggai was a prophet, Joshua was a priest, and Zerubbabel was a prince. The Lord Jesus is Prophet, Priest and King. By contrast, Mechizedek was a king and a priest, but he was not a prophet; Samuel was a prophet and a priest, but he was not a king; and David was a king and a prophet, but he was not a priest. The Lord Jesus excels and exceeds them all!
ii) The admonition, v2-7
What they said, v2. "Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, This people say, The time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built." The verse is full of challenging lessons. Notice the expression, "the Lord of hosts." It emphasises His immense and infinite power. His resources are limitless. The Jews seemed to forget this, and gave up their work for God without recognising his ability to help them.
Notice the expression, "this people." Not 'my people!'. They didn't think at all like God's people. (Compare Isa.22. God's people had become so much like their neighbours, that God puts them in the 'foreign nations' section of the prophecy!). Their interests took precedence over His interests. They had placed themselves at a distance from Him. There was a coldness between them and God. Notice that He was completely aware of their conversion, and recited the very things they were saying: "this people say ..." Compare Mai.3.16.
Notice that they made the decisions: "this people say, The time is not come ..." They had made up their minds. But it wasn't up to them to decide whether or not to build.
Notice, as well, that they did not say that "the Lord's house" should not be built, but that it was not the appropriate time to build. There was no sense of urgency. This reminds us of the need to "preach the word" and to be "instant (urgent) in season, out of season," 2Tim.4.2. After all, if we think about it for too long, we are almost certain to conclude that it just isn't the right time to preach the gospel! (See Ecc.11.4, "He that observeth the wind, shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds, shall not reap"). When opposition originally halted the work, it evidently halted interest in the work as well. The reason for inactivity did not lie with antagonism without, but with apathy within. Sadly, this is often the case today! The returning Jews had energetically commenced work for God, see Ezra 3, but interest had waned, and the task remained unfinished. They were in the right place, but that was all. They settled down in the 'place of the Name,' (see Deut.12.5, 11, 18, 21, etc.), and did nothing further to promote God's interests. But what about us? We say that we are in the right place, and that it is good and proper to be in the assembly, but have we just settled down in comfortable inactivity as far as the actual work is concerned? If so, expect the assembly to fossilize, and ultimately disappear without trace.
What God said, v3-7. He makes two statements, each of which is followed by the words, "Consider your ways," v2-5 and v6-7. Here is the first statement:
Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled ('lined', or 'wainscotted', perhaps with cedar: compare Jer.22.14-15) houses, and this house lie waste?", v2-5. Notice "you ... ye ... your," v4. Doesn't this remind us of Phil.2.21, "All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's." The people did not have time for "the Lord's house," v2, but they certainly had time for their own houses, v4. It was boom time for the 'do it yourself shops! When they said, "The time is not come, the time that the Lord's house should be built, they really meant, "we have no time to build the Lord's house." No wonder God says "now" in 2.2, 4, 11, 15, 18. They were saying, "The time is not come," and God was saying "Now!" We must be people who are "redeeming the time ('buying up the opportunities'), because the days are evil," Eph.5.16. (Also Col.4.5). It can sadly be true of Christians:
Room for pleasure, room for business;
But for Christ, the crucified,
Not a place that He can enter,
In the heart for which He died!
Perhaps God is saying to you now: "Consider your ways." It will do us no harm to review our attitude to assembly work, and our contribution to assembly building. (The word, "consider," means, 'set your heart on,' or, 'give attention': see also 1.7, and 2.15 and 18, where the word occurs again). This brings us to the second statement:
"Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes." Notice the negatives: "Ye have not enough ... ye are not filled with drink ... there is none warm." So eating, drinking and clothing were all affected. Their disappointment and dissatisfaction were the direct result of their failure to give God's interests priority in their lives. This is specifically stated in v9. But what happens when we do put God's interests first? Listen to the Lord Jesus: "Therefore take no thought (anxious thought), saying, what shall we eat? Or, what shall we drink? Or, wherewithal shall we be clothed? ... But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you," Matt. 6.31-33. (Also v25). The church at Laodicea was, spiritually, "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (five things: there were also five things in Hag.1.6) for the same reason. They were totally apathetic when it came to God's interests.
For the second time, God says, "Consider your ways." We should give careful attention to our own lives in two ways: we should "consider" what they are like now, and we should "consider" what they should be like. Israel's self-indulgence was followed by material barrenness: our self-indulgence will be followed by spiritual barrenness. There was nothing improper about their energy and industry in v6, but God was not given first place, and that made their busy lives unacceptable to Him.
The permissive proclamation of Cyrus posed a challenge: to go forward with God or remain in Babylon. The subject required mature judgment, not undue haste or superficial decision.
It is therefore the fathers of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin who receive first mention. Although men of experience, rank and influence, their credentials have been determined by domestic life. Likewise today the qualifications for an assembly overseer still require the aspirant to be "One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)", 1Tim.3.4,5.
Most of those who returned to Jerusalem did so as family units. This is ever the basis on which stable society is built. To see revival conditions return and assemblies strengthened today, due attention must be given to re-establish Scriptural family values. It requires the wife and mother to also play her part. While recognising that there may be legitimate exceptions, the present tacit acceptance among the Lord's people of the working wife and mother is contrary to God's Word. Scripture is clear. "I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house," lTim.5.14. Similarly young women should be "discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the Word of God be not blasphemed," Tit.2.5. It is vital that children are left in no doubt that it is the spiritual and eternal that predominates in parental priority. The Lord will honour all sacrifice in material things in pursuit of that goal.
Priests and Levites are listed after the fathers, thus showing that revival requires men of consecration as well as those of moral weight. Appreciation of the holiness of the Divine character, recognition of the centrality of God's Word and obedient piety are also essential.
However revival conditions do not depend solely upon men. God must intervene. "Then rose up ... all them whose spirit God had raised," Ezra 1.5. Stout-hearts like these are needed. God, who stirred the heart of a foreign king, Ezra 1.1, in similar sovereignty stirs the hearts of the Jewish leaders and others of the remnant.
Although the privilege to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple was offered to all, only 49,897, a decided minority among the Jews, accepted that opportunity. While God gave the desire, they must do the work. Human activity must respond to divine power. The decision is not one to be taken lightly. There is no middle ground. It is Jerusalem or Babylon, labour or leisure. It is the furtherance of God's will in an individual human life, or, a lesser option.
Yet it would be wrong to castigate everyone who remained in Babylon. The aged Daniel, for instance, did so. And the practical example of many who remained is worth careful consideration. They strengthened the hands of the returning Jews with "vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts, and with precious things," Ezra 1.6. The bounty bestowed was valuable, durable and practical. They were items that would retain a tradable value to further the work of God.
Then, as now, practical support for the work of the Lord is the responsibility of the Lord's people. There is a Scriptural pattern for us today. "Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him," 1Cor.16.2. We are shown in 2Cor.8 that Christian giving is voluntary, regular, proportionate and sacrificial. It is also a privilege! May we be delivered from any scintilla of a second rate, second best, anything will do attitude in this vital area of testimony. Give "not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver," 2Cor.9.7.
Revival also recovers to the people of God things long lost. "Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem," Ezra 1.7. For up to 70 years they had lain in the house of the idols of Babylon, until Belshazzar's fatal mistake when he sought to desecrate the sacred vessels in his drunken and immoral revelry, Dan.5.1-4. But what once belongs to God is His by right for ever. Recovery always separates the sacred from the profane. God can preserve both His people and that which answers to His presence.
Therefore, on behalf of the imperial throne, with solemn reverence and close attention to detail, Mithredath the Medo-Persian treasurer, hands over to Sheshbazzar (the Chaldean name for Zerubbabel), a Prince of Judah of the Davidic line, that which belongs to God. This is an initial step in fulfilment of prophecy, Jer.27.22, and foreshadows a greater day when the Lord Jesus Christ will receive the tribute of the kingdoms of men.
Chargers and basons, vessels and knives are thus carefully counted over. The principal 2,499 items are detailed and these, together with lesser items, total 5,400. We see that revival also involves detail and discipline. Nothing significant is ever accomplished by carelessness or haphazard application. If God refuses approximations in the counting of knives, Ezra 1.9, we can be sure He will require from us a detailed enumeration of our stewardship of time, talents and treasures. In an age of casual commitment, this fact should make us feel uncomfortable.
(8) ABRAHAM AND THE GREATEST POWER (Matt.22.23-33)
— "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God," (Matt.22.29) In this passage (and in the parallel passages, Mk.12.18-27 and Lk.20.27-40), the great truth of the resurrection of the body is brought before us. The Lord Jesus Christ takes an attempt by the Sadducees to discredit the doctrine of resurrection, and He uses Abraham (and the other patriarchs) to prove that resurrection will occur. We will consider the passage in two parts:
The Attack of the Sadducees, v23-28;
The Answer of the Saviour, v29-33.
1. The Attack of the Sadducees, v23-28
(a) The Setting, v23,24.
Various groups were trying to trap the Lord Jesus with difficult questions. Just before our passage, v15-22, and just after it, v34-40, the Pharisees tried to trap Him in His talk. Our passage concerns a different sect — the Sadducees.
The Sadducees were a sect within Judiasm, who were perhaps distinguishable more by the things they did not believe, rather than those they did believe. Acts.23.8 shows us that they said there were no such things as: resurrection, angels or spirits. As far as this passage in Matthew is concerned, it is the denial of resurrection that is particularly emphasised, v23, as this is the issue involved in their question.
Morever, they accepted only the first five books of the Bible, the books of Moses (Genesis to Deuteronomy). Thus they take, v24, a statement from Moses' writings: Deut.25.5-10, referred to as the law of "Levirate marriage," if a man died childless, his unmarried brother was to marry the widow, so that the dead man's name would not die out. This is seen exemplified beautifully in Ruth 4.10, where Boaz was the nearest relative willing to marry Mahlon's widow (Ruth), and thus to preserve the name of the deceased husband.
This then was the background against which the Sadducees sought to make their attack on the doctrine of resurrection.
(b) The Story, v25-27.
They present the story as if it was fact - "Now there were with us seven brethren." However, we cannot depend on the truthfulness of these people. It is much more likely that it was a hypothetical scenario, and far-fetched in the extreme. In their story, seven brothers were all, in turn, married to the same woman. Each was a lawful marriage, because each brother died before the next one married her.
Why do the Sadducees give such an involved case? The issue (as we will see in v28) is - if a person has been married more than once, which one of the spouses will be the spouse in the resurrection? The issue would have been just the same even if she had been married only twice, or three times, etc. Nor is the fact that the seven men were brothers relevant to the issue. If the seven men had been totally unrelated to each other, the question in v28 would still have stood. Nor does the fact that none of the marriages produced children affect the issue. Why then have the Sadducees sought to complicate the issue so much? Surely the answer must be, that it was all done in order to make the doctrine of resurrection appear as ridiculous as possible. The more fanciful the story, the more scorn they were pouring on the truth of resurrection. The whole story was meant to create in the listeners a sense of absurdity, which would make the Lord, and His teaching, look foolish.
(c) The Sequel, v28.
Now the Sadducees come in with what they feel is their unanswerable question. They have described the woman's life before death. Now, what of the sequel? If there is a resurrection, whose wife will she be? Here, surely, they reckon, Jesus of Nazareth must be faced with a question that He cannot answer. Now the idea of resurrection will be shown to be impossible. How clever these Sadducees consider themselves to be!
Yet there are many today who (just as mistakenly) consider themselves equally clever. Rather than believe what the Scriptures say, they think up complicated questions which to their thinking disprove the statements of Scripture. To take such an approach is, like the Sadducees, to err, as we shall now see.
2. The Answer of the Saviour, v29-33
The Lord Jesus Christ replies frankly in v29: "Ye do err." The basis of their error was twofold, namely ignorance of:
the Scriptures (which teach the resurrection);
the power of God (which can bring about the resurrection).
Although almost 2000 years have passed since these events took place, there are still plenty of modern-day "Sadducees". Many Sadducees in those days were priests, and today likewise plenty of them are men of high rank in the religious world; professed leaders of God's people. Like their ancient counterparts, they are more easily characterised by what they do not believe, rather than what they do believe. They say there was no virgin birth, no miracles, no literal resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, no inspiration of God's Word, that there is no hell, no resurrection of the dead, and so on. What ignorance of the Word of God, and what denial of the power of God!
It is a serious thing to deny the truth of resurrection. To do so is to deny the teaching of Scripture, and to deny the power of God, for this passage, and other New Testament passages make it abundantly clear that resurrection is proof of God's power. For example:
Rom.1.4: "And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead."
Eph.1.19,20: "And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead."
Phil.3.10: "That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection."
Not only was the basis of their error twofold. So also was the substance of it:
(a) They thought that a temporal relationship was eternal, v30.
Marriage is for life. It is permanent as far as this life is concerned. But it does not go beyond death. Death ends it. Failure to grasp this fact was what lay behind the Sadducees' question. If they had realised that the death of a husband meant the end of the marriage, then they would have realised that she will not be the wife of any of the seven — she will not be married to anyone. As the Lord put it, "in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage."
The Lord then explains further: "(they) are 3s the angels of God in heaven." He does not say that they will become angels, nor that they will become identical to the angels; rather will be "as the angels;" similar to them. In what respect? Angels do not marry, and angels do not die. In the resurrection, individuals will not marry, and they will not die. In that sense, they will be "as the angels."
(b) They thought that an eternal relationship was temporal, v31,32.
But the Lord is not finished with the Sadducees yet. Had He stopped at v30, the folly of the Sadducees' position would already have been evident. But He goes further. He has stated their ignorance of the Scriptures, v29. Now He gives an example of such a Scripture, to show their ignorance, and to show them (and us too) that resurrection is indeed taught in it.
He quotes from Ex.3.6 - a verse written by Moses, recording words that God had spoken to him. What wisdom the Lord shows in choosing this passage! The Sadducees accepted only Moses' writings, so He uses a passage that they claim to believe. Not only so, but they have used Moses to try to support their argument, v24, so He uses Moses to answer it.
God said to Moses: "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." The implication of this statement is at least twofold:
This statement was made to Moses many years after Abraham and the other patriarchs had died. If the Sadducees were right in their idea that death is the end of existence, then God would have said, "I was the God of Abraham ...". But He did not. He said, "I am the God of Abraham ...". That is, He was still their God, years after they had died. They were still living, as far as their spirits were concerned. God was still their God. The Lord explains, "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living."God would not have referred to Himself as their God if they had not been living at that time. He is only the God of the living, not of the dead.
But the implication goes even further. The Lord says that it is "touching the resurrection of the dead," v31. The quotation from Exodus does not only prove that the dead still live in spirit - it also proves that the body will be raised. The very affirmation of the existence of the spirits of the patriarchs after death shows that there must be a reuniting of the body and the spirit. The spirits of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were not in a disembodied state for eternity. They were being preserved for future resurrection of their bodies. "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." God had made covenant promises to them, and these promises would be fulfilled in their entirety. God's relationship to them could not be broken by death - His very character demanded their resurrection.
This is very important. There are many people who are happy to accept the first implication of the quotation. We even hear unbelievers referring to dead people as being "somewhere out there." They are happy enough to think of some spirit world where the dead are still living. But to acknowledge that those who have died are still living as to their spirits is only part of the story. We also need to take in the second implication: that the body will be resurrected, to be reunited with the spirit. God has promised it, and He will fulfil it.
The Lord has therefore shown that:
the relationship of a man to his wife is not eternal - it is ended by death;
the relationship of God to a believer is eternal - it is not ended by death. Thus for the Sadducees the message was clear:
they were mistaken in not believing in angels, as the Lord referred to "the angels of God," v30;
they were mistaken in not believing in spirits, as the Lord spoke of dead people as "living," v32;
they were mistaken in not believing in resurrection, as the Lord spoke of "the resurrection of the dead," v31.
The message is clear for us too: there will be a resurrection of the body, not only for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but for all who die. The power of God, the greatest power, will ensure that the body and spirit will be reunited in resurrection. What a blessed truth for the people of God to enjoy; that the "unclothed" state, of spirit separated from body, (as Paul describes it in 2Cor.5.4) is not forever. How blessed it will be when we are all "clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life."
But what will be our dwelling-place when in such a glorious state? In our final look at "Abraham in the New Testament," we will, if God allows, consider what God has to tell us about the place where we will be with the Lord, in resurrection glory.
Continuing with the theme of the considerate life, it can be seen that the Apostle is getting right to the core of the problem that he is trying to correct in the lives of these saints. The preceding verses in the chapter were a logical and necessary prelude to what he now teaches as the practical outcome of Christian love in action. If I receive the weaker brother, v1-4, and recognise Christ as Lord, v5-9,1 will as a result, refuse to judge others, v10-13.
We will anchor our considerations in the text of these verses as follows:
Christ the Judge (v10).
Christ the Lord (v11).
The Judgment (v12).
The Resultant Conduct (v13).
Recognition of the Lordship of Christ will have a salutary effect upon our relationships. Among other things, it means we will refrain from judging one another. This truth is developed in the present section of the chapter with a special emphasis on our own future judgment at the Bema. It will do us good to allow the direct and plain language of these verses to reach our hearts without the hindrance of excuses or rationalisation. If we read what Paul has to say and then shrug our shoulders in an attitude of comfortable nonchalance, there will be neither benefit to our souls nor improvement in our behaviour.
In the earlier section of the chapter, Paul asks the first of his penetrating questions: "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant?", v4. His point here is easily grasped. As a servant have I the right to judge another servant? — I am not the Master. In our present section, he asks another penetrating question in v10, "But why dost thou judge thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." Again we cannot miss the point — what reason do I have to carry out a review of my brother? Our Lord will review both him and me! As servants and brothers we have no remit to judge one another. The Lord is the common Master of both the weak and the strong: He alone has the right to judge our lives. This, of course, has nothing to do with the assembly judging sin in the fellowship.
1. CHRIST THE JUDGE (v10)
(A) Present Judgment is Condemned. "But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at nought thy brother?" The practice of judging that prevailed among the saints in Rome is condemned by Paul's very direct question, "Why?" In v4 they are asked to explain their reasons for judging the Lord's servants. Now in v10, they are asked to explain why they judge their brethren. Consideration for those to whom they are related in the field of service, v4, and in the family of the saints, v10, will bring critical judgment to an end. Our relationship as fellow-believers brings with it a responsibility: members of the same family should not be found sitting in judgment upon each other. In the context of the chapter, the apostle still has in mind the weak brother and the strong brother. The weak must not judge the strength of the strong, "why dost thou judge thy brother?" The strong must not judge the weakness of the weak, "or why dost thou set at nought thy brother?" Criticism on the one hand and contempt on the other are equally wrong and must be brought to an end.
(B) Future Judgment is Certain. "For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." In the construction of the sentence, "all" is emphatic — none is excluded. It is sobering to consider that my review by the Lord at the Bema will be far more searching and thorough than the severest investigation and condemnation that I mete out to my brethren; but it will be righteous! There will be no exceptions, "We shall ALL stand ..." There will be no evasion, "We SHALL all stand ..." Just as we are all responsible to the Lord, so too we are each accountable to Him. The weak and the strong; the critic and the criticised; the despiser and the despised — everyone without exception shall stand before His judgment seat for individual review. The correct rendering here is "the judgment seat of God." This does not mean that Christ will not be the Judge. In 2Cor.5.10 it is certainly "the judgment seat of Christ." Christ is God and the Father has committed all judgment to the Son, Jn.5.22.
This judgment is not condemnatory: it is not concerned with our sins but out lives as Christians and our service for Christ. It will involve review and reward. Beyond the direct challenge of the Apostle's two questions, there is a concealed implication that confronts the mind. How dare I scrutinise my brother's life or expect him to give an account to me, when we will both stand before the Lord and give our own account to Him. This solemn event puts into perspective my petty criticism of another who is the Lord's servant. We ought to live not just with our service in view but also considering our fellow-servants and our Master Who is the Lord Himself.
2. CHRIST THE LORD (v11)
"For it is written, as I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God." Paul's quotation from Isa.45.23 is an indication that the exercise of judgment by the Lord is one of the essential features of Lordship. This same passage is used in Phil.2 where the Lordship of Christ is established on the foundation of His self-humiliation and subsequent exaltation by the Father. The right to act as judge belongs alone to Christ, His is the right of Divine Lordship and hence the right to judge. In the same way that Jehovah claimed sole sovereign rights over His people in the Old Testament, the Lord Jesus Christ claims the right of judgment in the New Testament. In v9 of this chapter the Lordship of Christ is based upon His redemptive work and resurrection. Here in v11, His Lordship is based upon His deity. As God, only He has the right to judge.
It follows then that because of who He is, the Lord Jesus Christ claims both submission to and confession of His Lordship. These two truths must not be confused. There must be a bowing of the knee in submission to Him as Lord before there can be any meaningful confession by the tongue that He is our Lord. If He has the right to claim submission and confession then it follows that He also has the right to exercise judgment and demand from us our account. Perhaps the answer to our too-common indulgence in judging others lies right here — a refusal to acknowledge Christ as Lord.
3. THE JUDGMENT (v12)
"So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God." In a sentence that is intended to sum up the whole matter, Paul indicates that future judgment will be on an individual basis and that accountability is confined to the sphere of our own lives. There will be individual judgment, "every one of us ..." There will be no exemption from the judgment for any believer. It will be all-inclusive and we will stand there on common ground before the Lord Himself. The review will be individual, just as at salvation so in our service, God deals with individuals. There will be individual accountability, "give account of himself..." Here is the scope of my responsibility — my own life and not another's. I shall have to answer for what I have done, which is a big enough responsibility and one that leaves no room for meddling in the lives of others. This accountability is huge in its embrace. It includes what I have done, that is, my actions, my words and my motives as well as my thoughts, my character, my deportment and my attitude. Nothing will be omitted as the One with eyes as a flame of fire investigates my life. It will be impossible to hide anything or disown what is my responsibility. The Lord will "bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the counsels of the heart," lCor.4.5. Every unwarranted scrutiny of another's life and every unjust criticism of my fellow-believers, will be exposed in the Divine light of His presence and my disobedience to the teaching of this passage will be revealed.
4. THE RESULTANT CONDUCT (v13)
"Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother's way." In light of our future appearance before the Judgment Seat of Christ, Paul deals with our present conduct by exhorting us to refrain from judging others. He then takes things a bit further, not only should we avoid criticising others, we should not use our Christian liberty in a way that will stumble others. In short, we must consider others in everything that we do. There are two points developed in this verse.
Criticism is Forbidden. After all he had written, Paul could have commanded the saints at Rome to stop judging one another. But in his own gracious way he resorts to exhortation by saying in effect, "if it has happened, let us see to it that it does not happen again." The only way to make real progress is to stop judging. His exhortation still stands good today — are we prepared to heed it?
Consideration is Enjoined. Here we have an important development of thought. Even though our liberty in Christ is real and to be enjoyed, we must refrain from passing judgment on others who have not grasped it in the same measure. Does the fact of this liberty mean we live our lives in the way that we are convinced is right, regardless of others? By no means! We must be considerate of others and never be guilty of using our liberty in such a way as to cause others to stumble. "Judge this rather ...," here we see a present judgment that is right and needful —judging ourselves should be the guiding principle in all our affairs. This principle allows for the maintenance of Christian independence in the matter of our liberty in Christ. Yet, at the same time, there will be demonstrated the practice of unselfishness with a willingness to consider others before ourselves.
The Apostle spells out the devastating effect of critical judgment on others. Do we understand the results of our unscriptural criticism and judgment? It is to put "a stumbling block" (a hindrance), or even "an occasion to fall" (a snare) in the pathway of a brother in Christ. This is not the behaviour one would expect of brethren — to cause one in our family to trip and fall and thus be injured. The results for those who engage in it, is to have their scrutiny of others scrutinised by the Lord at the Bema. In our next consideration, v14-23, we will see how highly Paul values his brethren "for whom Christ died." If I value my brother as the Master does, I will not engage in any behaviour towards him that will cause him pain or to fall.
Here then, is the principle of self-judgment as a self-preservative. Rather than spending time and energy in judging others I should be preparing myself for the day when I will be called upon to give my own solemn and final account. This is important for each of us, for within each heart to a varying degree, there is the propensity to make our own views of truth and life the standard to be adhered to by all. How prone we are to declare things to be certain and clear when to others they appear doubtful and unclear. We can never view the Judgment Seat of Christ too solemnly. Let us resolve to live in a state of constant readiness to meet our Lord.
In this series, we shall consider, Lord willing, some of the metaphors which the apostle Paul used from everyday life of his times, to give simple, practical illustrations of many of the profound doctrinal truths which are taught in the Pauline Epistles.
To keep our thoughts in order we will look at the metaphors taken from:-
ARCHITECTURE : THE BUILDING.
AGRICULTURE : THE FIELD.
ATHLETICS : THE RACE.
ARMY : THE SOLDIER.
ANATOMY : THE BODY.
AMBASSADOR : THE MINISTRY.
ATTIRE : THE CLOTHES.
ACCOUNTANCY : THE PROFIT AND LOSS.
Thus in the first paper, it is the metaphors which the Apostle uses from an ARCHITECTURAL background that shall have our attention.
(1) ARCHITECTURE : THE BUILDING
One of the features of the last days will be that, "they builded." This is seen in the growth of every city, town and village where green fields are developed to streets, avenues and estates at an increasing pace.
Paul was from Tarsus, "a citizen of no mean city." As he moved among the cities of his day, he visited great cities as Corinth, Athens and Ephesus. He observed the buildings; some old and strong, some poor and shabby, some classical, some original, some oriental. He saw Temples and houses to live in; he thought of their foundations and structure; the builders and the people who lived in them; the materials of which they were built, and the purpose for which they were built. In Paul's writings he observes the great edifices of the Temple at Jerusalem and that of Diana of the Ephesians; he also mentions the contentment of the believer as having a house to eat and drink in.
From Genesis, God has ever had a desire to dwell among His people. How marvellous that God is pleased to dwell among men and what a wonder it is that we are going to dwell with God eternally. "In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit," Eph.2.22.
In Paul's epistles, we notice four types of buildings of which God is the Architect, Builder or Overseer
1) THE CHURCH IN ITS ENTIRETY
"In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord," Eph.2.21. The Church in its entirety, Jew and Gentile in one, all who are saved forming God's dwelling as all united through the Cross. All barriers horizontally are removed; "for He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us," Eph.2.14. All barriers vertically removed; "that they might reconcile both unto God," Eph.2.12. The Ephesian believers had left their great Temple but they now had a building far more magnificent. No palace on earth can compare with this great edifice, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the Chief Corner Stone. This is bigger than the assembly, all assemblies together do not make the house. Grouping assemblies together does not make anything in the New Testament. It is composed of living stones cut out from nature's quarry, saved by the grace of God, shaped by the quiet workings of the Holy Spirit to be to the eternal glory of the Heavenly Workman and soon the last stone will be added.
"View the Great Building, see it rise
The Scheme how great, the Plan how wise."
2) THE LOCAL ASSEMBLY
"Ye are God's building," 1Cor.3.9. "according tothe grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master-builder (architect), I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every many take heed how he buildeth thereon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ," lCor.3.10-11.
The local church is not a miniature of the Church in its entirety. This is practical and local not spiritual and mystical. I enter the assembly not at conversion but through obedience, moral and doctrinal fitness, baptism and fellowship. In the church local there is a distinction between male and female; there is the possibility of corruption doctrinally or morally; it can be marred by division and sadly there can be occasion of excommunication. In the local assembly we meet regularly in the fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayer but it can cease to function. The Church in its entirety will not all gather together until the Rapture when it will be presented faultless and continue forever.
The Church of God at Corinth was not a visible building but a called out company built upon no other foundation than Jesus Christ and gathered in no other name than owning Jesus Christ as Lord. In this building only the very best of God given materials are to be used. There is the gold of Divine origin, the silver of Redemption's costliness and the precious stones of all that is of true value to God. This material, though very costly, will produce a real work of God which is sturdy, solid, steadfast and will stand the test of Divine approval. Any attempt to erect a structure using inferior materials such as wood, hay and stubble may be cheaper, easier and certainly quicker but as with all that man produces, will only be a fire risk.
Paul had in mind two types of building, one spiritual, strong and costly; the other perhaps larger but rough and cheap, which will quickly deteriorate and go to ashes when tried by the fire. Paul was just as sure of his crown as he was of his conversion. The type of foundation, materials, builders, pillars, walls and doors are clearly specified in the Scriptures. Doing God's work in God's way will be more costly and may require more prayer and patience but will abide at the Bema. Some want to do God's work with cheap materials, casual labour and careless construction comprising of few sticks, some thatch and a bit of straw.
In the assembly there can be two types of activity, construction and destruction. "I commend you to God and to the word of His grace which is able to build you up," Acts 20.32. "Let all things be done unto edifying," lCor.14.26. To 'edify' is to 'build up,' 20 times in the New Testament, all except Acts 9.31 used by Paul. Believers obedient and skilled in the Word of God will be able, through diligent labour, to play their part in putting in a row or two to lift the structure.
"If any man defile the Temple of God, him will God destroy," lCor.3.17. The assembly can be corrupted by false teachers or immoral offenders. These are not good builders or bad builders, but those whether saved or unsaved who seek to destroy God's assembly. God will order the punishment to meet the crime and in order to preserve the sanctity of the assembly, the offender himself or herself may be pulled down by Divine judgment. One can be a hindrance rather than a help and the labour of a past generation can quickly be pulled down by the next. If there is anything more harmful than the demolition squad, it is those whom Paul exposes as building up the wrong thing. "If I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor," Gal.2.18. Some, rather than building walls of separation, are building bridges of convenience back to denominationalism.
The buildings about which Paul wrote, had strong pillars; "pillars of the Church," Gal.2.9. These were men of God, secure, settled, steadfast to withstand any storm of opposition.
Paul also spoke about the door. "A great door and effectual," for the furtherance of the gospel, lCor.16.9. The spread of the gospel is always from the assembly with a view to the assembly. "From you sounded out the Word of the Lord," 1Thess.1.8.
The soundness of what is built will be seen when the testing time comes. "Every man's work shall be made manifest ... what sort it is," lCor.3.13. You will observe that what is valued is "what sort" not what size. "If any man's work abide," 1Cor.3.14, not abound. The righteous judge will reward faithfulness not so much successfulness.
Paul also observed the furniture and vessels in the house and emphasised that they should be kept clean. "A vessel unto honour, sanctified and meet for the Master's use," 2Tim.3.21. It is better to be a clean earthen vessel than a dirty golden vessel.
3) THE HOME
"One that ruleth well his own home," 1Tim.3.4.
The home is not bricks and mortar, not riches but rule, not ornaments but order, not greatness but godliness. The home, marriage and the family are under attack in society. Sympathetically, we commend the homes of God's people to godly exercise and restraint. "I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house," 1Tim.4.14.
How good it is to have a home so ordered by both parents where the Scriptures are read, they pray with the family and it is an accepted thing that the whole family goes to the meetings. We cannot save the children but we are exhorted to so order the home that the adversary has no occasion to speak reproachfully.
4) THE BODY OF THE BELIEVER
"Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost?", 1Cor.6.19.
It is essential that we behave properly in the 'house' which we inhabit for the short space of life. We have a Divine Visitor so sensitive to sin and it would be sad to see Him grieved by the unlawful use of the house. It is so essential that we give notice to all who look on, that our present abode is temporary, transient and terrestrial because soon we shall be changing our address to that which is permanent, heavenly and eternal. "If our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens," 2Cor.5.1.
By Grace we have a Saviour who is aware of, and sympathizes with, all the trials and sufferings through which believers pass. He knows how it feels to experience the full range of human suffering and sorrow, apart, that is, from the sorrow believers feel for their own sins, for He is eternally sinless. This means "...we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin," Heb.4.15.
Our sin caused Him to become "...a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief...", Isa. 53.3. We never read of the Lord laughing: once we read of Him rejoicing, Lk.10.21, but it is recorded three times in the Scriptures that the Lord Jesus Christ shed tears. These tears were shed because of the sorrow and sadness caused by the sins of men and women.
At a grave
We read that "...Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus," Jn.11.5. He loved them as a family but, as the verse indicates, He also loved them as individuals. In the same way He "...loved the church, and gave Himself for it," Eph.5.25, but also each individual believer can say He "...loved me, and gave Himself for me," Gal.2.20.
Lazarus and his sisters lived in Bethany and when Lazarus was taken ill his sisters sent to the Lord informing Him of his illness. They told the Lord of their trouble, and this is what all believers should do. At this time the Lord was in Jerusalem, which is a little less than two miles from Bethany. On receiving the message the Lord stayed where He was and said "...This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby," Jn.11.4. The Lord knew that Lazarus would die and that He would raise him from the dead. In this, God and He, God's Eternal Son, would be glorified. The Lord, in His sovereignty, stayed in Jerusalem for a further two days before going to Bethany. When He and His disciples arrived at the grave of Lazarus he had been dead for four days. At the grave there were Jews who had come to comfort Mary and Martha. Martha, who had been so busy with the practical affairs of running a household, Lk.10.40, was there, as was Mary, who is found in Scripture at the feet of the Lord Jesus, learning, Lk.10.39, weeping, Jn.11.32,33, and worshipping, Jn.12.3.
The Lord was deeply touched and filled with tender love and compassion when He saw them weeping. He was moved with deep sympathy and emotion to see the sorrow that sin had brought into this world. The Lord was the perfect, sinless Man. In His time on earth He experienced tiredness, hunger, thirst, pain and sadness, and at the grave of Lazarus, showing His real, holy humanity, "Jesus wept," Jn.11.35. Then, however, He revealed His power as God and commanded "...Lazarus, come forth," Jn.11.43, and Lazarus was raised from the dead.
The Lord understands and knows our feelings. He understands the sorrow believers experience when a loved one dies. If that loved one is a believer then, by the grace of God, we do not sorrow as others who have no hope, lThess.4.13. Nevertheless, the sorrow is real and the loss is deeply felt. The Lord is always aware of our circumstances, but His is not helpless, powerless sympathy. He who sits on the right hand of "...the Majesty on high," Heb.1.3, never changes. He is the same "...yesterday, and today and for ever," Heb.13.8. The same power that raised Lazarus from the dead is available today and is working all things together for good, Rom.8.28, for each believer.
When the Jews saw the Lord weeping they said "...Behold how He loved him!", Jn.11.36, but what they probably did not realise was that the Lord also loved each one of them. He was weeping tears of sympathy for the sisters and to see the suffering, sadness and sorrow that sin had brought into the world, for death is a result of sin, Rom.5.12. The Lord Jesus Christ, who created and sustains the universe, Col.1.17; Heb.1.3, wept, but He used His power to stop others weeping, as He did when He raised Jairus' daughter, Mk.5.41,42, and the son of the widow in Nain, Lk.7.13-15. God is "the God of all comfort," 2Cor.1.3, and one day, in heaven, all tears will be wiped away, Rev.7.17.
Over a city
As the Lord descended the Mount of Olives on the back of a colt, with shouts of praise ringing in His ears, He had a view of the city of Jerusalem. "And when He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it," Lk.19.41. Once again He wept tears of compassion, pity and sadness because the people did not know the things that would give them peace and now they were hidden from them, Lk.19.42. They did not know the time of their visitation, Lk.19.44. The Lord "...came unto His own, and His own received him not," Jn.1.11. The people of Jerusalem rejected the Lord Jesus and shortly they would ill-treat Him and He would be crucified. The Lord knew how He would suffer and yet He loved and pitied the people. Being God, He knew that, because they rejected Him, in A.D.70 the Roman General Titus would take Jerusalem, many people would be slaughtered and the city laid even with the ground. Not one stone would be left standing on another, Lk.19.44.
As believers we "...have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ," Rom.5.1, but the people of Jerusalem, who rejected Him, would not know this peace individually or nationally. The Lord wept because of the awful judgment and the people of Jerusalem were going to suffer. The people had rejected Him as Messiah and now their time of opportunity had passed.
We see here how the Lord feels for the lost. As believers we must be far from Him if we have no concern for the lost and perishing around us. David, a man after God's own heart, Acts 13.22, said "Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not Thy law," Ps.119.136.
In a garden
The third time we read of the Lord shedding tears is in the Garden of Gethsemane, "...in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and was heard in that He feared," Heb.5.7. Here we see Him as the dependent Man praying, not to be saved from death, because He had come to die. He "...took upon Him the form of a servant, ...and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross," Phil.2.7,8. He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane to be saved "out of death" (JND), to be resurrected from the dead. He lived a sinless life of perfect obedience to God His Father and of absolute dependence on Him. His prayer was heard ...in that He feared" or "because of His piety" (JND), and, by the power of God, He was raised from among the dead.
The Lord, in becoming a dependent Man, walking a sinless path of faith which was entirely pleasing to His Father, learned what it was to suffer. Son of God though He was, He learned "...obedience by the things which He suffered," Heb.5.8. His Holy Being was revolted by sin, and by the agony entailed in suffering the wrath of God against sin, and yet He said "...not my will, but thine, be done," Lk.22.42, and went on to "...bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed," lPet.2.24. The Lord learned, through experience, the cost of obedience and in so doing was thereby made the perfect Saviour and so "...became the author of eternal salvation unto all that obey Him," Heb.5.9.
On June 14, 1967, at the age of eight, three days after the annual Sarnia, ON, conference, I trusted Christ as my Saviour, as had my older sister and brother shortly before.
God had spoken to us all through the tragic death of our younger brother in a farming accident. Now, one and a half years later, during the conference Sunday School, I was singled out, in front of a full auditorium, by the question, "Are you saved?" This suddenly brought the issue to a head. I determined to get the matter settled no matter what. Never again did I want that shame.
A habit we boys had was to read our Bibles and pray before sleep. This now stood me in good stead. No longer was it mundane and casual, but an earnest searching for any verse that would help me. Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, passed without event. Wednesday, it was down to the line, and no longer could I go on without Christ. It was now or never. As I shuffled between reading and praying, desperation took over. Grandmother came and put her arm around me and prayed. Hope that so quickly arose, plummeted as she left me still unsaved. On my knees I prayed for one last time, as never before in my life, quoting Lk.18.13, "God be merciful to me THE sinner." Rising from prayer, I fell on the bed in tears, and told God openly my frustration and helplessness. In the midst of my rambling, it suddenly dawned on me that I didn't have to go to hell since that was precisely why Christ died. Scarcely able to take it in, I rested in the wonder of it all, savouring the calm and peace of this new discovery. Slipping to my knees, I sent my greatly relieved words of thanks heavenward.
It is a privilege to be raised among gospel active family, friends and assembly. Farm work, or the many constraints of business life, all had to take a back seat to the priority of going to meeting. It was not up for debate, yet it never caused resentment in our family. Mixed with plenty of boisterous fun, hard work, and a happy family life, it was just an accepted routine.
We attended all the conferences in our vicinity. Frequently there were soul stirring challenges to use our youth, our time, our lives on things of eternal moment. In 1971, at the age of 13, returning from a family vacation in the Maritimes, we stopped at the Clementsvale, Nova Scotia conference. Clay Fite challenged us to "buy . . . gold tried in the fire." Albert Ramsay vigorously urged us to imitate Elisha who "killed the cow and burnt the plow." Lasting and deep impressions were made.
One of the persons who early influenced me most was my own father. His occupation was farming, but his preoccupation was the gospel. I recall often sitting on household chairs listening to him and others preach in my mother's kitchen or in someone else's house, where a few neighbours and friends had gathered. Perhaps more than anything, the images of many tabletop or workshop conversations with just about every poor unsuspecting salesperson or client, taught me that true evangelism is an everyday lifestyle.
Paul Kember and Jack Nesbitt, and others included us in tract distribution work, house meetings, or outreaches in community halls or gospel tents, encouraging us to share in the visitation and also the preaching as much as possible. The understood rule was if you didn't do the legwork of trying to get people to meetings, you shouldn't be too eager to preach. God wanted "labourers" not "preachers." Instead of being possessive or domineering, often they would sit out, making us take a turn at the microphone.
Albert Hull, Nova Scotia, gave me my first opportunity to share fully in gospel meetings in New Glasgow, NS. It was a thrill to work with him then and several times since. During the course of a year, I enjoyed joining James McClelland working villages or having gospel meetings in assemblies in Nova Scotia. These men were down to earth, far from preacherfied professionals. They had a vision for souls and for the needs of the work. I thank God for them, some of whom have early left us. They taught us to pray, to preach, how to deal with difficult people and questions at the door. They were our mentors, and our role models. They took us under their wing and made us part of their lives.
While in the east, I met a certain young woman, Debi Dalziel, from Prince Edward Island, who in 1982 became not only my partner in life, but a very effective helpmeet in the gospel. She was able to win friends and influence people to come to meetings. Her interest and willingness to share her life with mine, in the pursuit of such work, was no small token of God's provision and direction.
To bring decision and closure together we approached the overseers in my home assembly of Sarnia, ON, to discuss what we should do. It was a pretty unpretentious meeting, and their favour with what we were thinking was apparent, as indeed it had been all along up to this point. In the summer of 1983, while in a gospel series, I learned of their commendation, which they had announced to the assembly, and subsequently forwarded to our hand. Since then, we have enjoyed the challenge of gospel effort in weak or dying assemblies, new work far from any assembly, or just the delightful gospel series in a well established place, whether in Canada, the USA or latterly Mexico.
May God stir us all. "The night cometh when no man can work."
One of the greatest issues facing the British government presently is whether or not we should join the single currency. Certain countries have adopted the Euro as their common unit of currency and the argument continues unabated as to the success or failure of this venture. Manufacturers say that without it, Britain will lose its competitiveness but politicians, economists, financiers and business people are divided on the matter.
Strangely there is a parallel in the Old Testament except for the fact that it was obligatory and not optional. In Exodus 30 we read that when the children of Israel were numbered, every Israelite, "from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering unto the Lord." The amount that was levied upon them was 'half a shekel.' God determined the amount and it was common to all, regardless of their wealth or poverty. "The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when they give an offering unto the Lord, to make an atonement for your souls, Ex.30.15. Each individual Israelite, whether rich or poor must bring exactly what God demanded. The rich could not boast of his extra and the poor recognised that there could be no exceptions. All were made conscious of the need of a ransom and all were treated the same. The rich might have despised such a paltry amount but it was all that God required; more was totally unnecessary and less would have been utterly insufficient.
God has placed us all on a common platform. "For there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," Rom.3.22,23. As such we all need salvation and for our ransom, only one price is acceptable to God. The truth was impressed upon Israel early in their history. "It is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul," Lev.17.11.
There is a clear reference to the atonement money in 1 Pet. 1.18. "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, ...but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot." Nothing less than the precious blood of God's dear Son could atone for my sins or redeem my soul. This blessed Saviour Himself was valued at thirty pieces of silver by the priests and elders and Judas the betrayer but His precious blood is of inestimable worth and no other plea will avail. The pouring out of His soul unto death is necessary to procure our salvation." In Whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace," Eph.1.7.
Many would like to make a contribution towards their salvation and obligate God to bless them but none of us deserves to be saved and we will never be able to make ourselves worthy of such a blessing. Not all the wealth of all the world could atone for my sins, nor could weeping ever avail. "Jesus for the sinner bleeds, nothing more the sinner needs." God has found the ransom He desired and demanded, in the death of His beloved Son "and without shedding of blood is no remission," Heb.9.22. For that very purpose Christ came into the world "to give His life a ransom for many," Matt.20.28. No one will ever be able to boast of what they did to get to Heaven; all who will walk the golden street will proclaim alone the worth of Christ and His sacrifice upon the Cross.