In our previous study, we suggested that this chapter may be divided as follows:
The Sign Of Coming Retribution, vv.1-3
The Causes Of Coming Retribution, vv.4-6
The Certainty Of Coming Retribution, v.7
The Description Of Coming Retribution, vv.8-14.
We have considered the first two of these and so we come to:
THE CERTAINTY OF COMING RETRIBUTION, v.7
"The Lord hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, Surely I will never forget any of their works" v.7. This is the third time in the book of Amos that the Lord confirms His intentions with an oath: compare 4.2; 6.8. In all three cases He affirms His intention to act in judgment. In the first case, He swears "by his holiness"; in the second, "by Himself"; in the third, "by the excellency [‘glory’, J.N.D] of Jacob", which is probably best understood as reference to the pride of the nation. There are other interpretations. It is suggested that the Divinely-taken oath here is as certain and enduring as Israel’s pride. On the basis of this interpretation, the words "The Lord hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob", are deeply ironical and at the same time, a terrible indictment. Support for this interpretation may be found in 6.8, "The Lord Jehovah hath sworn by Himself, saith Jehovah, the God of hosts, I abhor the pride of Jacob, and hate his palaces." The word translated "excellency" (gaon) in Amos 6.8; 8.7 is often rendered "pride" in the Old Testament.
It is a chilling vow: "Surely I will never forget any of their works". Unregenerate men and women will prove this to be true on judgment day: "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works" Rev.20.12. Saved people rejoice that it is written, "their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more" Heb.8.12. Of the Lord’s people it can be said, "God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward His name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister" Heb.6.10. But even so, believers "must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad" 2Cor.5.10.
THE DESCRIPTION OF COMING RETRIBUTION, vv.8-14
Amos describes the effect of divine retribution in four ways:
There would be no escape from judgment, v.8
There would be no joy in the nation, vv.9,10
There would be no word from God, vv.11-13
There would be no future for the nation, v.14.
There Would Be No Escape From Judgment, v.8
Coming judgment is likened to a massive flood, resulting in the total inundation of the land. The Lord would visit His people with irresistible and overflowing judgment: "Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn that dwelleth therein? And it shall rise up wholly as a flood; and it shall be cast out and drowned, as by the flood of Egypt" v.8. Peter C. Craigie takes this literally and suggests that the verse refers to a still future earthquake whose effects will resemble the Nile in flood. However, it does seem better to take this verse figuratively. The Assyrian invasion of Judah is described in this way: "behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria … and he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of Thy land, O Immanuel" Isa.8.7,8.
There Would Be No Joy In The Nation, vv.9,10
"And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day" v.9. It is not easy to decide whether this is literal or figurative. Both Old and New Testaments certainly refer to darkness as the precursor of imminent judgment. Here are two examples: "And when I shall put thee out [referring to Pharaoh], I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land, saith the Lord God" Ezek.32.7,8; "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light ... and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven" Matt.24.29,30.
On the other hand, Jeremiah uses similar language which is evidently figurative: "She that hath borne seven languisheth: she hath given up the ghost; her sun is gone down while it was yet day" Jer.15.9. It has been said that "the figure of the sun going down" at noon was particularly appropriate since Jeroboam’s reign was the zenith of Israel’s prosperity, power, and glory" (J.Waldron).
Support for the figurative interpretation lies in the way the passage proceeds. Having said, "I will darken the earth in the clear day", the Lord continues: "And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning of an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day" v.10. Just as an eclipse of the sun brings immediate darkness, so Divine judgment would bring misery upon the nation. The ‘melody of their viols’ 5.23, would give place to mourning. Darkness would fall on the land. It has been pertinently observed that "if we really desire the light of God’s countenance to shine upon us, then we must walk in the light" (Peter C. Craigie). These people walked in darkness, and darkness fell upon them. Joy comes from obedience: "If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love, even as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love. These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full" Jn.15.10,11.
We cannot leave these verses, which refer to Divine judgment upon Israel, without recalling that centuries later Divine judgment fell, not on Israel, but upon Israel’s Messiah. On that occasion, God caused "the sun to go down at noon", and darkened "the earth in a clear day". According to Luke, "about the sixth hour [noon] … there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened" Lk.23.44,45. It was, again, "as the mourning of an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day". In the words of the New Testament, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son" Jn.3.16. We reverently sing:
Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut His glories in,
When the Incarnate Maker died
For man His creature’s sin
We should also remember that at His return that nation will look upon the very Messiah they rejected, "and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn" (Zech.12.10).
There Would Be No Word From God, vv.11-13
"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: and they shall wander from sea [the Mediterranean Sea] to sea [the Dead Sea], and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it. In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst". Quite clearly, v.13 refers to the thirst for the Word of God. See v.11: "I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord." No reference is made to the south: that would involve going to the place where the Lord placed His name! There is a significant progression in vv.11-14: "They shall wander [to shake and stagger under affliction] … they shall run [in panic: suddenly the word of God becomes valuable] … they shall fall [it is all too late]" vv.12,14.
The Lord had spoken to the nation, but His Word had been rejected (see, for example, 2.11,12; 7.10-13. Now God is silent. Compare the following: "And the word of the Lord was precious (rare) in those days, there was no open vision" 1Sam.3.1; "And when Saul enquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not" 1Sam.28.6; "We see not our signs: there is no more any prophet: neither is there among us any that knoweth how long" Ps.74.9. What a dreadful situation! As M.F.Unger observes, "The famine of the Word of God was a just retribution for those who had so blatantly turned a deaf ear to the words of the prophets." Can we expect to hear God’s voice if we fail to obey His Word? The very question carries its own answer.
It should be noted that the younger generation is singled out for particular mention, v.13. The older generation had deprived the younger generation from finding and knowing the truth. What a terrible indictment on the older generation! We must never forget the need for spiritual succession. Read 2Tim.2.2.
There Would Be No Hope For The Nation, v.14
"They that swear by the sin of Samaria, and say, Thy god, O Dan, liveth; and, The manner of Beer-sheba liveth; even they shall fall, and never rise up again." The people who had misled the younger generation, and who had done nothing to help them find joy and satisfaction in worshipping the true God, would face utter ruin.
"The sin of Samaria" (the capital of Israel, and standing for the nation as a whole) was the erection of the golden calves in the land, 1Kgs.12.28-30; Hos.10.5. The word "sin" here (ashmah) means ‘guilt’, although some commentators like to alter the wording of the Hebrew text to make it read ‘that swear by Ashimah of Samaria’, which refers to a Canaanite goddess, see 2Kgs.17.30. J.A.Motyer calls this "a slight and sensible emendation", but the text makes perfectly good sense without trying to alter it! No wonder "the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst" when the people cry, not "The Lord liveth", but "Thy god, O Dan, liveth: and, The manner [the way of doing things] of Beer-sheba liveth". One of the two golden calves erected by Jeroboam was located and worshipped at Dan, see 1Kgs.12.29,30. Interestingly enough, Beer-sheba (see also 5.5) was located in Judah, so some kind of pilgrimage south was involved. As J.A.Motyer observes, "Religion as such, v.14, can only lead to the eternal loss of falling and never rising. But by contrast those who live by the Word, live for ever".
This section, beginning at chapter 5.2, opens the second half of the book. The first half outlined four chronological stages of the royal couple’s wedding. From here on, the song will chart three moral stages within their marriage:
In this first section on revival, the main speaker is the bride. Roused reluctantly from deep sleep, she gradually regains an appreciation of her beloved’s loveliness and begins again to seek his company.
This portrays the nation of Israel prophetically when she shall be awakened to the claims of her God, after the Church’s rapture. In God’s calendar for Israel, this passage corresponds to the fifth feast of Jehovah, the feast of Trumpets, Lev.23.24.
The verses may also be applied pictorially to great revivals in the Church’s history, or more personally, to spiritual recovery in a backslidden Christian.
The passage may be considered in three parts, in each of which is posed a searching and repeated question;
5.2-5.8, A bride who Sleeps, prompting the question; "How shall I ... rise up?"
5.9-5.16, A bride who Sees, in reply to the question; "What is thy beloved?"
6.1-6.3, A bride who Seeks, in reply to the question; "Whither is thy beloved gone?"
A BRIDE WHO SLEEPS
"I sleep..." The bride is discovered in an unbecoming state. She is unconscious, "I sleep", unclothed, "I have put off my coat", and unshod, "I have washed my feet". Such will be the condition of Israel in the future when God again takes up dealings with her. This also might be the general state of the Church just prior to the Rapture, Rev.3.20.
Closer to home, this aptly describes a backslidden Christian; unresponsive to Christ, unclad by Divine armour, and unshod with the preparation of the gospel. How needful the exhortation of Rom.13.11-13; to "awake out of sleep", to "put on the armour of light", and to "walk honestly".
The bride is not left long in stupor. Her beloved intervenes in three ways; by knocking, by pleading, and by showing his hand, "… my beloved that knocketh …"
One way or another, God will act to arrest His wayward children. His knocking might take the form of a Pharaoh’s rebuke, as with Abraham; or a storm, as with Jonah; or a rooster’s crow, as with Peter. But knock He will, to regain our full attention.
"It is the voice of my beloved ..." Awakened by his knocking, the bride recognises her beloved’s pleading tones. Yet, she seems powerless to respond, for she says, "How shall I put it [my coat] on? How shall I defile them [my feet]?" To Christians adrift from God, the way back sometimes hardly seems possible.
"My beloved put in his hand…" The bride’s beloved places his hand by the door, leaving upon it such an overwhelming fragrance of myrrh that she exclaims, "my bowels were moved for him". Likewise the sweet aroma of Christ’s sacrificial love can melt the coldest of hearts, 2Cor.5.14. Then will surely follow, as with the bride, "I rose up to open to my beloved" 5.5.
"I opened … but my beloved had withdrawn …" To her dismay, the bride now finds her bridegroom out of reach; "I sought him … but I could not find …"; "I called him … but he gave me no answer …"
Might this not allude to the Great Tribulation, when believing Jews of the period, having been stirred to Messiah’s claims, must yet wait awhile for His physical return? During this time, the faithful will suffer: "they smote me … they wounded me … took my veil from me …", but wakened hearts will remain true, "I am sick of love".
How different the experience of the Christian restored to Christ today, who may resume fellowship with Him immediately: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me", Rev.3.20.
A BRIDE WHO SEES
"What is thy beloved more than another beloved?" The second question of the passage highlights the incomparable Christ. David, whose name means ‘beloved’, was the father of Solomon. Now Solomon, the bride’s beloved in this passage, was in many ways greater than David, 1Kgs.1.37. Yet the greatest among every beloved is Christ Himself, the heavenly Son of David, Matt.12.42; 22.42. Truly our Beloved is more than any other beloved.
The query elicits a delightful response from the bride. Her heart now awakened, her eyes are filled with his greatness. "My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand ..."
This triple accolade finds true fulfilment in Christ alone. Christ’s unique combination of Divinity, "white", literally dazzling, and Humanity, "ruddy", literally, adam, makes Him the focus of attention, "chiefest among ten thousand". John the apostle pens similar words, "and the Word [Deity] was made flesh [Humanity], and dwelt among us, and we beheld [the focus of attention] His glory …" Jn.1.14.
However, John continues; "the glory as of the only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." This passage too depicts:
Glorious Authority - "His head is as the most fine gold [literally; ‘fine gold, pure gold’]".
The Hebraic word repetition for gold deliberately placing Christ far above the delegated human authority of Nebuchadnezzar, described in Dan.2.32 as merely "fine gold". Israel in the Millennium will bow to the Divine rights of her King, Ps.45.6. The Church now submits to Christ her Head, Col.1.18. Christians anticipate the day when all will acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, Phil.2.11.
Glorious Liberality - "His hands are as gold rings [elsewhere, describing opening doors], set [elsewhere, ‘overflowing’] with the beryl".
To Israel, Jehovah will bestow every precious gift promised to Abraham, Gen.19.8. To the Church, Christ who gave Himself continues to bless bountifully, Eph.5.25; 4.8. To Christians, He gives not only eternal life, but also eternal security, Jn.10.28.
Glorious Stability - "Set upon sockets of fine gold".
The terrible figure of Nebudchadnezzar’s dream decayed at its feet to iron and clay; weak, and destined for destruction, Dan.2.33. Not so our Beloved. Believing Israel, the Church, and the Christian, all rest upon the same enduring rock, Christ Himself, 1Sam.23.3, Matt.16.20; 7.24. We need lean on none else.
Gracious Regard - "His eyes are as the eyes of doves".
To God, Israel was described as the very "apple of His eye", Zech.2.8. Similarly, Christ ever seeks the good of the Church, Eph.5.27,28.
Gracious Nearness - "His cheeks are as a bed of spices.".
The contact of a loved one’s cheek implies the closest intimacy. How near Christ has come to us. He was called the Consolation of Israel, (Paraclete, literally drawing alongside us), Lk.2.25. His name Emmanuel means God with us, Matt.1.23. John records that He dwelt among us, Jn.1.14. He even deigned to be touched by us, and the feeling of our infirmities 1Jn.1.1; Heb.4.15.
Gracious Words - "His lips like lilies, dropping sweet smelling myrrh".
Mary, as she sat at the feet of Christ, alone understood the bittersweet words predicting His crucifixion, Lk.10.39; she alone knew to anoint Him before the event, Jn.12.7. However, Christ through the Holy Spirit now unveils to every believer the Scriptures concerning His suffering and glory.
Gracious Affection - "His mouth is most sweet".
Here is a reference to the kisses of a spouse, sweet tokens of affection. However, Christ has given us not just tokens, but evidences of His affection, having loved us, and given Himself for us, Eph.5.2.
Purity of Desire- "His belly is as bright ivory".
Here are the motives of the beloved. The godly desires of Solomon’s early years were sadly corrupted in his old age, 1Kings chapter 11. Both the God and the wife of his youth were forsaken. In contrast, the adamant desires of Christ are perpetually toward His Father and His own, Jn.4.34, Lk.22.15.
Purity of Walk - "His legs are as pillars of marble".
The legs speak of walk and conduct. Solomon’s selfish desires led him into sin. But Christ’s pure motives led Him instead to the cross, and the completion of His sacrificial work, Jn.8.29.
Purity of Appearance - "His countenance [elsewhere, appearance] is as Lebanon [literally; white]".
Christ’s inward purity is reflected by outward excellence, which will one day be visible to all, Matt.24.30.
In short, Glory, Grace and Truth are evident in Christ in full and equal measure. All of Him is desirable. Let us echo the sentiments of the bride, "Yea, He is altogether lovely".
A BRIDE WHO SEEKS
"Whither is thy beloved gone? … that we may seek him with thee". Here is the third and final question in this section. The rapturous description of the bride’s beloved has won for him the hearts of others; they now become fellow-seekers.
During the Tribulation, recovered Israel will seek the Christ with single-minded focus. Such testimony under deep persecution will convert others to Him.
This is God’s Divine pattern: Worship empowers Witness. It is no different in this dispensation. Following Matthew’s account of the resurrection, His disciples are told on three occasions to personally apprehend Christ before being sent to tell of Him, Matt. 28.6,7,9,10,16-20.
Personally, how delightful when our appreciation of Christ stirs us to seek His presence. How much more delightful should that appreciation provoke others to seek Him.
"My beloved is gone down into his garden … to feed [as a shepherd]". The bride’s understanding of her beloved’s character suggests to her where he has gone, and his purpose in doing so. Knowing him thus, she will find him, and join him; "I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine." This too is Christ’s ultimate will for us, that we might not only know Him, but be with Him, where He is, Jn.17.3,24.
How encouraging to learn that one who sleeps may yet again become one who sees, and then one who seeks, the Saviour. May our hearts be revived by Christ, our eyes opened to His beauty, and our steps guided to Him.
To be continued, (D.V.)
God, Who At Sundry Times
By Tony van der Schyff (South Africa)
Paper 3 - Read Hebrews chapter 1.1-4
We are considering the eightfold portrait of the Son in vv.2-4 and we come to the third.
EFFULGENCE OF GLORY
"Who being the brightness [effulgence, J.N.D.] of His [the] glory". "Effulgence" means an out-raying, a radiance, a brightness, an out-shining. The Greek word "doxa", is rendered "glory". According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, glory is used "of the nature and acts of God in self-manifestation, i.e., what He essentially is and does, as exhibited in whatever way He reveals Himself". If the word "His" in v.3 is in italics (meaning it is not in the original Greek Text), the reference then would be to the glory of the Son Himself, although it could mean that the Son is the brightness of the Father’s glory, in the same way that He is said, in the same verse, to be "the express image of His person [the Father’s person], which is in line with what our Lord said in Jn.1.18, "No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son Who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared [revealed, disclosed, unveiled] Him". God is fully disclosed and intimately portrayed in His Son. It is God’s self-disclosure in Christ, the Son.
However, it would not be unscriptural to conclude that the glory mentioned here (without the word "His" in the text) is the glory that belongs to the Son Himself, in the same way that there is the glory that belongs to the Father and that which belongs to the Holy Spirit. "Who being the brightness of glory", that is the Son’s own personal, pre-incarnate glory of splendour and supremacy; of intrinsic majesty; of transcendent and infinite greatness; the sum-total of His Divine perfections - all of which He voluntarily veiled when He became Man so that men could freely and openly look upon Him clothed in the garb of His complete but sinless humanness and perfect humanity!
With regard to the Son, there is His Personal, Pre-existent, Pre-incarnate glory of Deity and Divinity; of Godhead and Godhood majesty and power. The glory of His Eternal being as the uncreated, underived, unoriginated, self-determining, self-sustaining, eternally existent God! Our Lord’s high priestly prayer in John chapter 17 gives us an illuminating insight into the Divine glories mentioned there. Note v.5, "And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own Self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was [created, began]." This is a clear reference to His Personal, Pre-existent, Pre-Incarnate glory. In vv.22,23 our Lord refers to another aspect of glory, "And the glory which Thou gavest Me, I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are one. I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one". We submit, within its context, that this is the glory of a precious, present and perfect unity, "I in them and Thou in Me". Since the Father dwells in the Son, when the Son dwells in His people, the Father dwells in them also! Precious portion, indeed!
In v.24 our Lord speaks about a post-redemptive glory. "Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am: that they may behold My glory which Thou hast given Me". It is submitted that this is the glory that is His by virtue of His atoning accomplishments in redemption and that with His glorious ascension, "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name …" Phil.2.9, no doubt the glory of His exaltation to the right hand of the majesty on high. As Samuel Rutherford stated in his hymn, "The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land".
In summary, there is:
The glory of His majesty and might as the Eternal God. "But unto the Son He saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; a sceptre of righteous is the sceptre of Thy Kingdom" Heb.1.8.
The glory of His miraculous virgin birth. "Behold, a [the] virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name, Immanuel" Isa.7.14.
His manifested glory. "This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee and manifested forth His glory" Jn.2.11.
His moral glory. "We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father full of grace and truth" Jn.1.14.
His Mount of Transfiguration glory. "And was transfigured before them: and His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light" Matt.17.2;
Mk.9.2,3; "the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment was white and glistering" Lk.9.29.
His mediatorial glory. "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus [the one and only mediator between God and men, the Man Himself, Christ Jesus], Who gave Himself a ransom for all" 1Tim.2.5.
The glory of His mighty resurrection from among the dead ones. "And what is the exceeding greatness of His power [the incomparable 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" Eph.1.19,20.
The glory of His majestic ascension and exaltation to the right hand of the Father on high. "And set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all" Eph.1.20-23.
The glory of His ministry as Great High Priest. "But this man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them" Heb.7.24.
The glory of His millennial reign. "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom" 2Tim.4.1. "For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" 2Pet.1.11. "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years" Rev.20.4. "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years" Rev.20.6.
He is described as the Exact Impress, the Exact Expression or Representation of the Father. "Who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His Person" - the exact representation of His essential Being, substance, nature and character. A clear reference to the Deity and eternality of the Son. In Jn.1.1,2 we have that glowing testimony of Christ, the Word, "In the beginning was the Word [Logos] and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God". It was Philip who said, "… Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father: and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?" Jn.4.8,9. Paul, writing to the Colossian believers about their salvation and translation from the power [thraldom] of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son [the Son of His love], says of Him, "Who is the image of the invisible God" Col.1.15, that He is the exact expression of the invisible God. The physical, visible image of the infinite, invisible God!
Dr. David Gooding gives the illustration of taking a die and impressing it on a piece of metal. From the marks on the metal, he says, "you could tell what the die was like. When we look at Christ, we see what God is like! However, the piece of metal which received the marks of the die, need not be of the same metal. NOT SO CHRIST! He is essentially, eternally, the same, the exact image of the Father! What the Father is, the Son is. What the Father has, the Son has".
EMPOWERING, ENERGISING WORD
"And upholding all things by the Word of His power [His powerful Word]". "Upholding" denotes that He is sustaining, guiding, propelling the universe by (through) the word of His awesome, incomparable power. "By [through] Him, all things consist [subsist, cohere, are held together]" Col.1.17. It is indeed a marvel that despite the staggering, bewildering vastness of the universe, there has never been a cosmic catastrophe! Each and every heavenly body, of whatever kind, shape and magnitude, continues to move in its ordered orbit. There never can be, and never will be a cosmic catastrophe because He Himself upholds, sustains, propels, all things by the Word of His absolute power! He gave it its origin, He owns it, He orders it, He upholds it! "For this they willingly are ignorant of [deliberately forget; and by a conscious denial] that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water, and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed [deluged] with water, perished [was destroyed]: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept [laid up] in store, reserved unto fire against [to] the day of judgment and perdition [destruction] of ungodly men" 2Pet.3.5-7.
In the opening chapters of the Old Testament, we read about a man and his wife, Adam and Eve. At the commencement of the New Testament, we begin by reading about a man and his espoused wife, Joseph and Mary. Marriage is an institution of God for all ages. When upon earth, the Lord took a little child and placed him in the midst of the people. Marriage, procreation and the family are in the purposes of God for the promotion of the joy of mankind and the development of what God considers to be, ‘very good’.
In Genesis chapter 1, God created man in the image of God. He placed man at the apex of His creation. Man had dominion over the creature with the capacity for moral action. Man began at the top and fell. Contrary to the falsehood of evolution, that which commenced in the paradise of Eden has been ruined by sin, disobedience and death. In modern societies family life has plummeted into a spiral of despair.
The last blessing of Paradise that is left to us is marriage. Marriage and the well being of the family structure is God’s order. The devil has always attacked that which has been to the glory of God. The basic family unit is being ruined in modern societies. The governments of the twenty first century react by continual legislation for the protection of children. Laws for the protection of marriage and the upholding of Biblical standards of decency would be better, since such would deal with the root cause of these evils. It is always better to deal with the disease than just to relieve the symptoms..
The historical order of creation is given in Genesis chapter 1. Gen.1.27 "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them".
The moral order of creation is shown in Genesis chapter 2. Gen.2.18 "And the Lord God said, It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him." This is the order of God’s provision for the man. When God looked upon His work of Creation He said that is was "good". Gen.1.10,12,18,21,25. Then when God looked upon Adam alone in the garden, He said it was "not good" Gen.2.18. However, when God created the man and the woman He saw it was "very good".
Eve was to be a "help meet": lit. ‘a helper agreeing to him’ a counterpart both mentally and physically. A man and a woman, not a woman and a woman nor a man and a man. The Lord Jesus said that this was how God, "made them at the beginning" Matt.19.4. In modern society, civil laws are determined by the ebb and flow of public opinion, but God’s moral standards are unchanging.
God created man and woman and this distinction ought to be maintained. A man should be a man and a woman should be a woman. When God brings a man and woman together in marriage this institution is for the well being of them both, for the bond of family life and for the benefit of the very fabric of society.
God brought the woman to Adam. God performed the first marriage and they were united in honour and innocence, as they had never yet sinned. They were both so virtuous and good that God could come and talk with them in the garden. That togetherness is not just an answer to man’s loneliness but his wife is with him to share in the joys and sorrows of life; to help, complete, support her beloved. The husband will want to hear her voice, to have her in his sight. When one is discouraged the other will encourage, when one is hurt the other will help. How beautiful in the life of believers is that hearing, forgiving, understanding, believing, comforting oneness.
When God made (lit. ‘built’) the woman and brought her unto the man it was the formation of a bond of bone to bone and flesh to flesh. Gen.2.21,22 "And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man." God took a rib from his side, not his head as his superior, not the foot as his inferior but as his equal, his companion by his side. Thus Peter exhorts, "Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered" 1Pet.3.7.
The Scriptures clearly establish the priority of the man. Gen.2.22 states that God "brought her unto the man". 1Tim.2.13,14 "Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression." From this flows the headship of the man. Subjection and submission does not suggest inequality. Adam was made first. Adam gave Eve her name. Christ was willingly submissive yet equal to the Father.
Gen.2.23 Adam exclaims in delight, "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man". It was an abiding union of joyful satisfaction. Today there is a diminishing significance attached to the marriage bond with lax laws, marriage guidance and much counsel to fit the compromise of modern society.
Gen.2.24 "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." This statement is repeated four times in the Bible:-
Gen.2.24 in the beginning of the Old Testament, at Creation in Genesis;
Matt.19.5 in the first book of the New Testament, with a Jewish background in Matthew;
Mk.10.7,8 again by the Lord Himself, with a Gentile background in Mark;
Eph.5.31 is a New Testament epistle, with a Church context in Ephesians.
This is the basic and fundamental statement of God’s decree for marriage, for all mankind, saved or unsaved, for all ages. There are three distinct basic steps separated by the word, "and":
i) A Leaving that is Public: "A man shall leave his father and his mother…".
The man shall leave his parents to go to establish his own family unit, publicly known in his own name. This implies physical, intellectual, moral and emotional maturity. It does not mean that he shall abandon his parents. Christian love and responsibility will maintain care for the elderly parents. This leaving proves that God was introducing marriage for all mankind; since it is obvious that Adam did not leave his father and his mother. This is the Divine institution of marriage from creation binding upon all mankind governed by Divine laws in all ages, saved or unsaved.
ii) A Cleaving that is Permanent: "and shall cleave unto his wife…".
The verb "cleave" means: ‘to cling’; ‘stick to’; ‘be glued to’ in an inseparable bond, i.e. a permanent relationship. The word has no sexual significance but is a permanent commitment not depending upon feelings, emotion or passion. The man shall ‘leave’ the former family unit and shall "cleave unto his wife."
In marriage, this cleaving shall therefore be a unity arising out of shared beliefs, values and goals independent of circumstances of blessing or trial.
iii) A Union which is Personal: "and they shall be one flesh."
Two distinct personalities become one. A dualism becomes an individualism in the oneness of life. Nothing but death can separate a man from his own ‘flesh’. In Gen.2.22-24 Adam and Eve consented to the will of God and delightfully accepted each other as man and wife. In Gen.4.1 Adam was joined sexually with Eve who was already his wife. Being "one flesh" constitutes marriage, not sexual union. They became "one flesh" at the time when Jehovah brought the woman to Adam and he accepted his wife from God. Gen.2.23 "this is now … flesh of my flesh". This statement was a present fact when Adam was speaking and was not dependant upon any physical intimacy. This "one flesh" was made by God Himself and not made in the marriage bed.
1Cor.6.15-17 distinguishes between; "one body, one flesh and one spirit". When a man is joined to a harlot the passage says they become, "one body". It does not say that they have got married. The quotation of Gen.2.24 in 1Cor.6.16 is made in order to contrast the expressions "one body" and "one flesh" and is written to condemn fornication. In the context of 1Cor.6 three expressions must be differentiated.
"One body" is the fleeting, debased, uncommitted relationship of two bodies unmarried;
"One flesh" is the personal intimacy and permanence of the marriage bond;
"One spirit" is the intimate and permanent union between the Lord and the believer.
They called Peter an "unlearned and ignorant" man, Acts 4.13, but behind the weather-beaten face of the Galilean fisherman there was a mind that was stored with the Word of God. This was seen in his earliest days as a disciple. With the others he witnessed the Lord Jesus cleansing the temple and we are told, "His disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of Thine house hath eaten Me up" Jn.2.17. Could we have linked Psalm 69 with that incident? I think not, but Peter did, and his thorough knowledge of Scripture constantly surfaces in his preaching and writings.
In the light of inspiration, speaking of "sources" for his writings is perhaps irrelevant, but we know that Luke researched his material well, Lk.1.1-4, and looking at Peter’s letters, we can detect a range of sources for his teaching. For example, he used illustrations from things around; from the animal kingdom he spoke of a lamb, and sheep and a lion and an ass and dogs and pigs. He cited the vegetable kingdom in references to grass and flowers, with an allusion to the cross of Christ as "the tree". Minerals such as silver and gold receive mention, so the natural world was scoured for illustrations.
Frequently he raised issues that are reminiscent of incidents in the Gospels and the Acts. Two references from chapter 1 will illustrate the point. "Whom having not seen, ye love … ", v.8; this is surely an echo of the Lord’s words to Thomas, "blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" Jn.20.29. The reference to "the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven", v.12, looks back to the Day of Pentecost in which Peter was a major participant, so he culled from his personal experiences.
As suggested earlier, it is obvious that his mind was stored with the Word of God, and so he sees in its characters illustrations for his teaching. Abraham and Sarah, Noah, Lot, and Balaam all receive mention in his letters. There is a lesson here for modern preachers; an anecdote can be helpful, but if a Bible narrative can elucidate a point, it is better to use the Biblical illustration.
Peter quotes from the three sections of the Old Testament. The Pentateuch features in his early chapters and in particular he illustrates truth from the record of Israel’s redemption and subsequent wilderness journey. The Poetical books of the Psalms and Proverbs are alluded to. So also are the Prophets and in particular, the end of chapter 2 mirrors the language of Isaiah chapter 53. So Peter’s sources are many and varied.
In addition to the sources mentioned, there are constant links with Daniel’s prophecy. Peter was writing from Babylon, 5.13, the scene of the writing of that ancient volume, and his mind had soaked up its atmosphere. Some of its characters provided Peter with illustrations and concepts to colour his own ministry. The purpose of this series of articles is to set out some of the connections, and explore the narratives to which Peter alludes. In doing this we will major on Daniel rather than on Peter.
Peace be Multiplied
Peter greeted his readers with "peace, be multiplied" 1.2. His words replicate the greetings of the mighty Nebuchadnezzar as he wrote to the people of his realm, Dan.4.1. That letter is what we could call a tract of his conversion story. In modern times it would have gone out in a mail-shot to every home in his empire; it was "unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth". Nebuchadnezzar was still "Nebuchadnezzar the king", v.1, but he wanted everyone to know of his experience with God. He had no notion of being a low-profile convert, the kind of whom the Lord Jesus would have said, "ashamed of Me … in this adulterous and sinful generation" Mk.8.38. Are you a secret disciple, Jn.19.38, or "not … ashamed of the testimony of our Lord" 2 Tim.1.8?
The tone of the greeting shows that Nebuchadnezzar was a changed man. Up until this point he is depicted as belligerent, threatening, abusive and despotic. His aggression is seen in a stream of death threats and warnings of homes being converted to dunghills! "Peace be multiplied". What a dramatic transformation! The simple lesson is that conversion is a life-changing experience and if attitudes, life-style and interests remain the same, then a serious question mark hangs over the validity of the profession of faith. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" 2Cor.5.17. At Jericho, the self-centred Zacchaeus became a philanthropist, Lk.19.1-10; while at Philippi the aggressive jailor bathed wounds and served meals, Acts 16.23-34. These men were genuine. At Samaria, being still "in the bond of iniquity" exposed Simon as a fake, Acts 8.20-24.
Not only did conversion affect the man’s Attitude but it produced Adoration. He appreciated God as "the Most High God" v.2, R.V., and acknowledged His signs and wonders as "great" and "mighty" v.3. Before laying down his pen, his heart was again lifted in praise to his God, "Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven" v.37. Conversion had made this man a worshipper. And thus it should be. In Luke chapter 7, the tears, kisses and ointment of the woman were the logical corollary to the joy of forgiveness, v.38. A cleansed leper "with a loud voice glorified God" Lk.17.15. Bartimaeus "followed Him, glorifying God" Lk.18.43.
Apply this principle to assembly life. 1Peter chapter 1 enumerates a range of things that happened at conversion. We were born again and redeemed; we experienced the salvation and purification of the soul. Peter then describes such people as "an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" 2.5. It is a clear statement of what we call, "The Priesthood of all Believers". This doctrine is contrary to current thinking in Christendom which sees the priests as distinct from the people. Scripture teaches that every believer has the status of a priest and is entitled to approach God to express worship and "the sacrifice of praise" Heb.13.15. Taking other passages into account it is clear that only the brothers will do it audibly in congregation, 1Cor.14.34, but all brothers should do it. Don’t be like Zacharias, a dumb priest, Lk.1.20.
Another truth that had gripped him was the fact of the absolute authority of God. The references to "His kingdom" and "His dominion" v.3, denote the acknowledgement of Divine sovereignty. Once he had imperiously scoffed at three Hebrew youths, "Who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?" 3.15. Since then he had been taught a lesson and he had learned that "the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will" 4.17. The supremacy of God and His transcendence were now accepted facts. No longer did Nebuchadnezzar speak of "the might of my power", and "the honour of my majesty"; God was His sovereign; God was in control.
The New Testament equivalent is the truth of the Lordship of Christ. "He is Lord of all"; it was preached in the first gospel sermon to a Gentile audience, Acts 10.36. Confessing with the mouth "Jesus as Lord" is an integral part of the conversion experience, Rom.10.9, R.V. We speak of receiving Him as Saviour and Lord. Invariably, Peter reverses the order and speaks of "our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" e.g. 2Pet.1.11. With his fellow-disciples, he had called the Lord Jesus "Teacher and Lord". The Saviour adjusted that by declaring Himself their "Lord and Teacher" Jn.13.13,14, J.N.D. The New Testament places a huge emphasis on His Lordship, but acknowledging it is not just a form of words. There is a tendency in the evangelical world to refer to Him as "Jesus". We could be careful to avoid that trend but maybe He is enquiring of us, "Why call ye Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" Lk.6.46. Subjection to His Lordship is demonstrated in obedience to His Word. When He commands, and we say, "Not so, Lord" Acts 10.14, it is a contradiction of monumental proportions. When He speaks our names, let us respond heartily, "Behold, I am here, Lord" Acts 9.10.
The sad thing is that Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion could have happened eight years earlier if he had heeded Daniel’s warnings. The sequence of events was as follows;
His Complacency. "At rest in mine house" v.4. Like many another sinner he was lulled to sleep; "flourishing", his material prosperity rendered him insensitive to his spiritual need.
His Concern. "Afraid" v.5. The dream awakened him spiritually, and the interpretation allied with Daniel’s "counsel" urging repentance, v.27, should have turned him to God.
His Conceit. Sadly, the impressions were short-lived and a year after his fright, he was strutting around Babylon full of his own importance and devoid of any thought of being right with God, v.30.
His Conversion. God dealt with him, and after seven years of a degrading mental condition, he "lifted up (his) eyes unto heaven" v.34. It was a look of faith that honoured "the most High". Eyes that will not initially look up because of a sense of shame, Lk.18.13, have to be lifted up to view the source of salvation. God sometimes deals dramatically with people to bring about their conversion. It isn’t always so; Lydia did not require the earthquake that awakened the jailor, Acts 16.14-34, but many can testify, "I was brought low and He saved me" Ps.116.6, R.V.
His Confession. "I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven." Nebuchadnezzar had learned so much about the attributes and the character of God, and he wanted everyone to know, v.37, for "how shall they hear without a preacher?" Rom.10.14. Let us emulate him, and the captive maid, and tell others what we know about the God of heaven, 2Kgs.5.2-4.
As we commence a consideration of any epistle it is helpful to know something of the background of the book and when it was written. Most Bible students agree that Paul was imprisoned at Rome on two different occasions. The first is recorded in Acts chapter 28 when he was under house arrest. It was during this period that the epistle to Philemon was written. The second imprisonment, which ended with his martyrdom, is recorded in 2 Timothy.
The epistles written by Paul during that first imprisonment are called the prison epistles and are:
Colossians - THE GLORY OF THE HEAD;
Philemon - THE RECOVERY OF ONESIMUS;
Ephesians - THE MYSTERY OF THE BODY;
Philippians - THE UNITY OF THE ASSEMBLY.
They were probably written in that order with the date of the letter to Philemon being around AD 62-63.
This letter to Philemon was sent by Paul at the same time, carried by the same men and taken to the same place, as the letter to the Colossians, but it was not included in it. This teaches that there is a difference between personal matters and assembly matters. While one can affect the other, we do not mix assembly principles with the home situation. That there are things permissible in the home which are not acceptable in the assembly, is clearly taught by Paul as he wrote to the Corinthians: "What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in?" 1Cor.11.22. We can play musical instruments in our homes; we can enjoy fellowship with denominational Christians in our homes; we can have social gatherings in our homes; we can play games with the young in our homes; we may listen to CDs etc. with the singing of individuals and choirs in our homes. These examples, and a multitude more that could be given, underline the truth that we must make a difference between the home and the assembly.
Having stated that, we do recognise that the home life of a believer affects the assembly. This is seen in testimony generally but in the home life of overseers more particularly.
THE PURPOSE OF THE EPISTLE
Two men arrive in Colosse one day and make their way to the house of Philemon. One is Tychicus and the other Onesimus. Tychicus was well known and is first mentioned in Acts 20.4 as a companion of Paul. The other was Onesimus. He also was well known in Colosse, but for a different reason. In Colossians chapter 4, Paul brings them together: vv.7-9, "All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother, and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord: whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that he might know your estate, and comfort your hearts; with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here."
It is noticeable that Onesimus is called "a faithful and beloved brother". There is no reference to his service, as there was to that of Tychicus, since there had not been time for it to be assessed. The principle that Paul outlines to Timothy in 1Tim.5.22, "Lay hands suddenly on no man ...", is pertinent here.
Onesimus was a bondservant to Philemon and from v.18 of the letter to Philemon, it seems that he had defrauded him, "If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account". As a result of that fraudulence, he fled to Rome, about 1,000 miles away, perhaps to escape detection by hiding among the city crowds. There he met Paul and was saved, v.10, "I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds"; and v.16, "Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?"
Thus the epistle is a plea from Paul to Philemon to receive Onesimus, v.16, "Not now as a servant, but ... a brother beloved …".
PRINCIPLES IN THE EPISTLE
We ought to note:
Courtesy To Our Brethren
Paul does not make demands on Philemon but addresses him in a gentlemanly way. We should be able to speak to each other in such a fashion. Christians do not use the uncouth language of the street. It may be that we have differences but these should not give way to discourteous, rude and ill-mannered behaviour. Coarse and vulgar conduct never advances Christianity.
Paul Does Not Condone Onesimus’ Past
It is important to learn that salvation does not remove the consequences of our former life. The life before conversion and decisions made then must be faced. In the Gospels we learn that Zacchaeus was prepared to make restitution, Lk.19.8. While his sin was cleansed, the effects of his former life remained and had to be resolved. All too often we hear it glibly quoted, "the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin" 1Jn.1.7. This verse means that all is judicially forgiven in the Divine reckoning but it does not mean that suddenly sin is sanctified and we are absolved from commitments, responsibilities and other practical issues that have been woven into life prior to salvation. While God deals with our sin, we must deal with the implications of our sin.
Paul here recognises that reconciliation with Philemon was necessary for the development of Onesimus’ future service.
Slavery is Not Condemned
Some have wondered why Paul did not take the opportunity to condemn slavery. However, the advance of Christianity would solve this problem. Paul did not get involved in these social issues. While Christianity is not political, yet if its principles are accepted and practised it will make a big difference to society. Christians are not to be political activists, involved in protests, carrying of placards, voting or standing as political candidates. Thus we read in Titus 3.1, "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work …". The place where we touch politics is in our prayers: 1Tim.2.1,2, "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." The Lord will overrule in the political sphere to accomplish His own Divine purpose: Rom.13.1 "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God."
Missionary work is primarily to see souls saved and assemblies established, thus giving a base for the work of God and the spread of the gospel.
A Pattern Letter of Commendation
While this letter, like Romans chapters14 and 15, has to do with personal reception, rather than by the assembly, there are some principles that will be helpful to those who have the responsibility of writing a letter of commendation.
The writer, the recipient and the subject are clearly stated. As with all that emanates from the assembly it should be done decently and in order and the least expected from a letter of commendation is that it should be legible! A letter of commendation should be written specifically for the person and the occasion concerned. This is not achieved by using a standard, pre-typed letter that will do everybody or anybody. Of course, to allow such a letter to be written, the brethren need to be given sufficient time to compose it.
There is also an introduction that sends wishes for their blessing in Divine matters, v.3, "Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
It expresses confidence in the recipient, for example v.7, "we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother."
There is a central part which gives the true, ungarnished spiritual state of the subject of the letter, for example, v.10, "I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me".
There is a desire for the subject to be received, v.12, "thou therefore receive him", and there is an ending signed by well-known and respected brethren. This is essential because a letter is only as valid as those who sign it.
A Pattern in Christian Conciliation
It shows how to solve difficulties between brethren. This is done by reminding those estranged of their nothingness and their debt to Christ. If we could instil into estranged brethren a sense of humility and a willingness to solve every problem in the light of the cross, the difficulties would be more easily resolved.
It is a Compendium of Christian Creed in Conduct
Note the clear links with Colossians. In that epistle there is much teaching relating to the body of Christ. This is seen in the unity of: an apostle, Paul; an employer, Philemon and an employee, Onesimus - Jew and Gentile together. We remember Col.3.11, "Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all."
In Philemon there is an emphasis on love. Compare Col.1.8, "your love in the Spirit"; 2.2, "hearts ... being knit together in love."
Paul desires that Philemon and Onesimus should be reconciled. Note Col.1.21, "you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled." After reconciliation Paul presents Philemon with Onesimus, thus Col.1.22, "to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight"; 1.28, "that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus".
Onesimus was expected to make a clear confession to Philemon: see Col.3.9, "Lie not one to another".
What was to be Philemon’s attitude to Onesimus? Col.3.13, "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye"; 4.1, "Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven".
What was to be Onesimus’ attitude to Philemon? Col.3.22, "Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God."
Other links could be made with Ephesians and Philippians, but we shall leave that for the reader’s homework!
One of the most undesirable experiences that a person can encounter is that of loneliness. Some look back to childhood days when they were surrounded by family members; there was laughter, companionship, helpfulness, mutual care and love. However, the enemy, death, gate-crashed the family and one after another, loved ones were taken and loneliness followed.
Perhaps others feel the emptiness of loneliness because a spouse died after many years of happy marriage. How often we have heard the following sentiment expressed, "It’s not too bad during the day when I can get out and about, but it is when darkness falls and I am alone in the house. A house that formerly was alive with chatter and friendly banter is now silent."
If loneliness on earth for a period of time is so sad and painful, what an awful thing it must be to experience this for eternity. For every soul that dies without the Saviour the only outlook is the "blackness of darkness forever" Jude v.13. Some foolhardy and spiritually ignorant people have the mistaken idea that when they arrive in hell they will meet their friends and enjoy an eternal party! Since the judgment of God will be absolutely righteous, no two people will have the same sentence allocated to them and so each will be alone for eternity. What a horrendous thought, lonely and in the dark, under the judgment of God for all eternity.
However, there is One Who can save us from such an eternity of woe. In wondrous love God sent His Son to die for sinners, bear the judgment so that we, so undeserving, can be rescued from hell. God’s Son, Jesus Christ, experienced loneliness in His life. He was, "despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" Isaiah 53.3. We read that He was homeless, John 7.53-8.1 "And every man went unto his own house. Jesus went unto the mount of Olives". He had no comfortable shelter, "Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head" Matthew 8.20. However, when we want to see the depth of the loneliness He suffered for us, we must come to His death. As He anticipated His sufferings He said, "Reproach hath broken My heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none" Psalm 69.20. But it was when He hung in the agony of dark Calvary’s cross He cried, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Matthew 27.46. God left Him alone when "His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree" 1Peter 2.24. H. K. Burlingham wrote:
"Alone upon His cross, God’s judgment Jesus bore,
He paid in full the cost of glory evermore:
His precious blood was freely shed,
And Jesus crushed the serpent’s head!"
"The blood of Jesus Christ His [God’s] Son cleanseth us from all sin" 1John 1.7. By trusting Him as your Saviour you will never experience eternal loneliness, but will enjoy the bliss of His companionship both now and for ever more.