Most times we read the word "godly" in our English Bible, it qualifies a noun, for example, "godly sincerity" 2Cor.1.12; "godly sorrow" 2Cor.7.10; "godly jealousy" 2Cor.11.2; "godly edifying" 1Tim.1.4; "godly fear" Heb.12.28. On two occasions, however, it qualifies a verb. These two occurrences have much in common: both are in letters written by Paul, to individuals, who are younger fellow-labourers of his, yet they are words about all God’s people. Both were written near the end of Paul’s life; in fact, in the last two letters that we have from his pen. However, the most significant feature that they share is that in both cases the verb with which the adverb "godly" is associated is "live". As we embark on a new year, it is appropriate to remind ourselves of them, for they are no less relevant in 2019 than they were when written all those years ago.
The first to be written was to Titus: "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world" Titus 2.11,12. The coming of our Lord Jesus into this world, and the work that He did on the cross, was a glorious manifestation of God’s grace, bringing with it salvation, and making it freely available to all. Let us, in the year that lies ahead, until the Lord comes, be zealous in our making known of the gospel, confident in the knowledge that salvation by the grace of God is within the reach of everyone.
However, the grace of God has not only a message for sinners but for saints: it is "teaching us". There is the negative side (having denied "ungodliness and worldly lusts") and the positive ("we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world"). There has never been a time when this instruction has been more necessary, for with every passing year "this present evil world" Gal.1.4, increasingly manifests its true character. God’s grace teaches us that, in contrast to Demas, who "loved this present world" 2Tim.4.10, we are to live in a way that stands in sharp relief against the darkness all around.
The second was written to Timothy: "Yea, and all that will livegodly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" 2Tim.3.12. This Scripture, along with many others, makes it clear that seeking to live in a way that is characterised by inward purity, good behaviour towards others, and giving pleasure to God, will not be an easy course. The statement is absolute: all who are resolved to live a godly life shall face the hostility of the world. In the preceding verse, Paul gives his own example of suffering persecution, and in the succeeding verse he states that the situation will get worse. We can be sure that it will be no better in 2019 than in 2018.
So, on the one side we have the instruction of the grace of God, and against that the antagonism of an evil world. May we, by that grace, despite all that may oppose, pay earnest heed to the instruction in His Word, and make it our business to "live godly" in this new year.
One of the most reassuring attributes of God is His immutability; in days of incessant and often painful changes, it is blessed to know that there is One Who never changes and Who remains steadfast and unfailingly faithful. Because of this He is enduringly reliable, constant and consistent and therefore worthy of our unhesitating trust at all times. The comforting message of Malachi, still so applicable in 2019 is: "For I am the LORD, I change not …" Mal.3.6; "… the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever" Heb.13.8.
The inevitable changes on earth never compel God to change or revise His plans and the fickleness of humanity never poses a threat to the purpose of God; the winds of change constantly altering the landscape of our world are never felt in those celestial scenes where God sits supreme and serene upon His unassailable throne, in calm and complete control of all things.
Trust in Him ye saints for ever;
He is faithful, changing never;
Neither force nor guile can sever
Those He loves from Him.
As a committee we have been very conscious of God’s faithfulness another year and the magazine has continued to be published without interruption. The change of editor happened seamlessly and we take this opportunity to recall with gratitude the labours of our previous editor, our brother Brian Currie, who carried those onerous responsibilities for many years cheerfully and diligently. We acknowledge the good work done by our present editor, who continues to uphold the objectives of the magazine and ensure that a variety of helpful, instructive articles are published in each issue for the enlightenment and edification of the intended readership.
We are sincerely grateful to all who consistently pray for our blessing, to all who encourage by their letters of appreciation, to all who assist by their practical help and generous gifts, and to all who facilitate the distribution of the magazine.
Thanks must also be expressed to the secretary/treasurer for his proficiency in ensuring that correspondence is swiftly replied to and that accounts are meticulously kept and to our auditor for his expert services and helpful advice. We are thankful to the Lord for the friendly cooperation and interest existing in the committee, and for the amicable way in which all business is discussed.
We wish all a happy New Year, possibly the year of the appearing of "the bright and morning star", and solicit your continued prayerful remembrance of us in the days ahead in His gracious will.
The title at the head of this Psalm is quite self-explanatory: "To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, the servant of the LORD, who spake unto the LORD the words of this song in the day that the LORD had delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul: And he said …" This is not the first time that Psalm 18 occurs in the Old Testament: read 2Samuel chapter 22 for the first version, where v.1 is virtually the same as the heading to this Psalm. The previous chapter describes the final humiliation of the house of Saul, and four victories over the Philistines. Differences between 2Samuel chapter 22 and Psalm 18 are "due doubtless to revisions by David himself in preparing the Psalm for the chief musician for use in the public services" (A.G. Clarke).
It is generally said that the song was composed shortly after the battle of Gilboa, 1Samuel chapter 31, but its heading and structure suggest a later date. In this connection it is noteworthy that similar words occur in 2Sam.7.1, "And it came to pass, when the king sat in his house, and the LORD had given him rest round about from all his enemies …" But David’s victories in 2Samuel chapter 8 could well form the background to the song. We read twice here that "the LORD preserved David whithersoever he went" vv.6,14. As A. McShane observes in connection with 2Samuel chapter 22, "the song was David’s expression of appreciation for his deliverance from his enemies in general, and from Saul in particular". Since the previous chapter refers to both Saul and the Philistines, David’s song is in exactly the right place!
The Psalm clearly divides into two sections.
David’s Thanksgiving to God for Delivering him from his Enemies – vv.1-27
It is noticeable that David does not refer here to any attempt on his part to destroy them. Bearing in mind that the Lord delivered David from the murderous intentions of Saul, and that David never lifted a finger against him, it does seem that this section of the song refers to that particular time in David’s life. He was delivered "out of the hand of Saul" 2Sam.22.1.
David’s Thanksgiving to God for Enabling him to Destroy his Enemies – vv.28-50
This speaks for itself. David pursued and consumed his adversaries to the extent that "I beat them small as the dust before the wind: I did cast them out as the dirt in the streets" v.42. These were external enemies, principally the Philistines, 2Sam.5.17-25. He was delivered "out of the hand of all his enemies" 2Sam.22.1.
DAVID’S DELIVERANCE FROM HIS ENEMIES – vv.1-27
This part of his song can be divided into four parts:
David’s Deliverer – vv.1-3
David’s Distress – vv.4-6
David’s Deliverance – vv.7-19
David’s Integrity – vv.20-27
David’s Deliverer – vv.1-3
"I will love thee, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. I will call upon the LORD, Who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies."
We should notice that thanksgiving is prefaced by the words "I will love thee, O LORD, my strength" v.1. That was his spontaneous reaction as he revised the manuscript (it is omitted from the "song" in 2Samuel chapter 22) for the chief musician. Compare Ps.116.1, "I love the LORD, because He hath heard my voice and my supplications." The Hebrew word rendered "love" is apparently rather uncommon, and has the idea of fervency about it. This was no passing feeling: it was something deep and intense. David had good cause to love the Lord, and so have we: "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" 1Jn.4.10. How much do we love Him?
The opening section of the song is a veritable gold mine. The Lord was everything to David: "my strength … my rock … my fortress … my deliverer … my shield … my salvation … my high tower." J. Baldwin (writing on 2Samuel chapter 22) calls this "a torrent of metaphors" which "proclaims to the world that David has found his God to be a rock of ages, utterly dependable in all kinds of dangerous situations, infinitely resourceful in delivering His servant from death". We can think about this in terms of the past, the present, and the future.
It does seem that in all probability David is recalling here particular occasions on which God had delivered him. Rocks and strongholds (fortresses) figure prominently in the story of his persecution by Saul. The word "rock" (sela) refers to an elevated rock or a cliff, and occurs in 1Sam.23.25, "David … came down into a rock." Notice that David called the place Sela-ham-mahlekoth (‘the rock of the separations or divisions’). The word "fortress" is metsudah; it occurs in 1Sam.22.4, "they dwelt with him all the while that David was in the hold", and 1Sam.24.22, "David and his men gat them up unto the hold." (The word reflects in the name ‘Masada’, Herod’s well-known fortress by the Dead Sea). Perhaps David was thinking of these incidents at this point in the song, and therefore used the same words.
David gladly acknowledges that his past preservation did not lie merely in rocks and strongholds, but in the Lord Himself. He proved that "the name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe" Prov.18.10. In the Millennium, "a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock (sela) in a weary land" Isa.32.2. That "man" is "the man Christ Jesus" 1Tim.2.5.
We should notice that David does not say, "The LORD was my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer", but "The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer." The Lord Who had delivered David in the past had not changed. In New Testament language, He is "the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever" Heb.13.8. Paul put it like this: "But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us" 2Cor.1.9,10.
"In whom I will trust" v.2; "I will call upon the LORD, Who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies" v.3. While David wrote the song "in the day that the LORD had delivered him from the hand of all his enemies" (superscript), he had no illusions about the future. There would be more enemies! That would mean continuing faith and more prayer! He was confident that the Lord Who had never failed him in the past could be completely trusted for help and deliverance in the future. Whilst David was a powerful king with "mighty men", he placed his entire confidence in the Lord. He is "worthy to be praised".
David’s Distress – vv.4-6
"The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid. The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me. In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry came before Him, even into His ears." We must notice:
David went in fear of his life for something like seven years, but there was one particular occasion on which capture and death seemed inevitable. "And Saul went on this side of the mountain, and David and his men on that side of the mountain: and David made haste to get away for fear of Saul; for Saul and his men compassed David and his men round about to take them" 1Sam.23.26. David is possibly referring to this occasion here. It is worth pointing out that the words "sorrows of hell" v.5, should not be regarded as Divine judgment. David is not referring to the destination described in Lk.16.23, but to death in a general sense. The word sheol is often translated "grave" (e.g. Isa.38.10).
In another Psalm, David wrote: "The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and His ears are open unto their cry" Ps.34.15. We must not miss the personal relationship here: "I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God." This is why his prayer was heard. "The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness ... For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God" vv.20,21. As J. Baldwin notes (writing on 2Samuel chapter 22), the words, "He heard my voice" and "my cry came before Him, even into His ears", mean that God distinguishes "the individual’s need amid all the cries that reach His ears". The "temple" v.6, is "the sanctuary in the heavens, the dwelling place, the palace of Jehovah, as in Psalm 11.4" (J.M. Flanigan).
We should pause now and remember that the Lord Jesus cried "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Ps.22.1. He had every right to say "My God", but He was forsaken. We know why this took place. God "made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" 2Cor.5.21. But we should add that "when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death [‘out of death’]" He "was heard in that He feared [‘because of His piety’]" Heb.5.7. He was not saved from dying, but He was saved ‘out of death’ by resurrection.
Having considered David’s Deliverer, vv.1-3, and David’s distress, vv.4-6, we will consider David’s deliverance, vv.7-19, and David’s integrity, vv.20-27, in our next paper, God willing.
The service of Levi is also important following the remnant of Israel’s return from Babylon, as recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah. This return was in three phases: Zerubbabel and Jeshua with some fifty thousand others, 536 B.C.; Ezra with some fifteen hundred, 458 B.C.; and Nehemiah with a military escort, 445 B.C.
ZERUBBABEL AND JESHUA’S RETURN
"Priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised" Ezra 1.5, were part of the fifty thousand who returned to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel and Jeshua. Revival requires men of consecration and moral weight, who recognise the holiness of God and the centrality of His Word.
Details of the returning Levites are provided in Ezra 2.40-42,70. Only seventy-four working Levites returned. They did so knowing they would have a heavy burden of repetitive and arduous tasks and that, as Levites, they could not own land. It was therefore a test of faith to return with so much to do; with so few to do it; and to depend upon the Lord to sustain them. Again, "Levites, from twenty years old and upward" were appointed to take forward the work, Ezra 3.8.
When the temple foundation was laid, the priests had trumpets and the Levites cymbals and they sang together by course, Ezra 3.10,11. Such praise was entirely appropriate then. However, the pattern now is "be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" Eph.5.18-20. While the word "melody" in that verse conveys the thought ‘to play on a stringed instrument’ it is evident that such music is within the heart. Keeping ‘instrumental music’ in that sphere will keep the soul sweet and the position scriptural.
Alongside the outpourings of joy when the temple foundation was laid, "many of the priests and Levites … who were ancient men, that had seen the first [Solomon’s]house ... wept with a loud voice" Ezra 3.12, when they compared the present work with the glory of the former. Care must be taken by older believers not to discourage the exercise of the younger. Former ‘good old days’ are often over-gilded with romantic retrospect. Joint exercise of the older and younger, balance between experience and enthusiasm, between wisdom and willingness, is needed.
Levites participated in the eventual dedication of the restored temple, Ezra 6.15-18. At the dedication of Solomon’s temple one hundred and forty-two thousand animals were sacrificed, 2Chr.7.5; now only 712 animals are sacrificed, but this was large-heartedness in the prevailing circumstances. However their offering, "a sin offering for all Israel, twelve he goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel" Ezra 6.17, equals the earlier exercise of "the princes of Israel", Numbers chapter 7. A consciousness of sin and the cost of its removal must be maintained, even in seasons of celebration. Importantly, they also reinstated the service of the priests and Levites "as it is written in the book of Moses" Ezra 6.18.
Levites are associated with the keeping of the first Passover at the new temple, with the emphasis on purity, Ezra 6.20. Purity and personal preparation remain essential, even in days of relative poverty.
After seventy-eight years, Ezra returns from Babylon to Jerusalem, accompanied by priests and Levites. The imperial authority given, Ezra 7.11-26, contains an important proviso: those returning must be "minded of their own freewill" to do so, Ezra 7.13. Nothing of a spiritual nature is accomplished by coercion. If the willingness of wholehearted application is not present, a forced exercise will fail in the face of adversity.
Leaving Babylon for Jerusalem, Ezra called a three-day halt at the Ahava waterway for rest, reassessment and planning. Here he "viewed the people, and the priests, and found there none of the sons of Levi" Ezra 8.15. While two priests were returning, there were no Levites! Ezra then sends nine chief men, plus another two with understanding, to appeal for "ministers for the house of our God" Ezra 8.17. The outcome was that a total of thirty-eight Levites joined Ezra’s company to reinforce temple service at Jerusalem, Ezra 8.18-20.
Levites were also responsible to guard the silver, gold and vessels being transported to Jerusalem. There was a weighing of worth at Babylon in view of a day of reweighing under severe and discriminating scrutiny at Jerusalem: "Watch ye, and keep them, until ye weigh them before the chief of the priests and the Levites … at Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the LORD" Ezra 8.29. Full account must be given of stewardship: nothing should be lost, mislaid or stolen. The successful transportation of some twenty-eight tonnes of precious metals over nine hundred miles is recounted in a few verses, Ezra 8.30-34. It is reweighed by other responsible priests and Levites at Jerusalem. No man can truly assess his own service, or that of others. This gives a foretaste of the judgment seat of Christ, where value and weight of service will count; not apparent success.
Sadly it was soon discovered that there was blatant sin in the Jewish colony in Judah, with 113 civil and religious leaders guilty of moral and religious sin. "The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations ... For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass" Ezra 9.1,2. That which is unlawful by the decree of God cannot be legitimised by human sanction, legislation or ceremony. It was the leaders, from whom most was expected, who ignored the Divine standard and succumbed to Satan’s objective to mingle the holy and profane. They compromised a separate people through cohabitation and concubinage. It is tragic when those with influence with the Lord’s people lead them on a wrong course. Unjudged moral sin always threatens the existence of the testimony, 1Cor.5.6.
Recovery and restoration are described in Ezra chapters 9 and 10. Regrettably, four men, one of whom was a Levite, opposed the procedural method agreed upon for a city by city, case by case, resolution, Ezra 10.15, R.V. These four, the Levite included, are individually named before those who perpetrated moral sin! It is a serious matter to seek to subvert Divine truth and/or rule among the Lord’s people. God will never allow such to go unrecorded.
The fact that seventeen priests are named in the list of transgressors is shameful, Ezra 10.18-44. That four of these priests were from the family of the high priest is exceedingly so. In addition, ten Levites were also implicated. When influential men sin, others will follow. Here over eighty others had similarly trespassed, with their names recorded eternally in Scripture.
Priests and Levites were also involved in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah chapter 3. When the reconstruction was completed "the porters and the singers and the Levites were appointed" Neh.7.1.
The history of Ezra’s returnees is rehearsed in Nehemiah chapter 7, concluding with "So the priests, and the Levites ... dwelt in their cities" Neh.7.73. A new teaching ministry is then inaugurated: "and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law" Neh.8.7. Levites engaged in this expository teaching ministry stressed the meaning of God’s Word by reading "in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading" Neh.8.8. This should still be the guiding principle of Bible teachers! On "the second day were gathered ... the priests, and the Levites, unto Ezra the scribe, even to understand the words of the law" Neh.8.13. These also recognised their need for a deeper understanding of God’s law. This stresses that we too should ever be seeking to develop our understanding of God’s Word. Ministry meetings, Bible readings and conference gatherings remain of vital importance.
The teaching initiative of Ezra, supported by the Levites, resulted in self abasement, confession and worship, Neh.9.1-5, and the making of a sure covenant, Neh.9.38. Those who signed the covenant are listed, with Levites identified among them, Neh.10.1-27. They separated themselves "unto the law of God ... every one having knowledge, and having understanding" Neh.10.28.
A true teaching ministry will lead to practical results. Here there is reformation in relation to the sanctity of marriage, the application of the sabbatical laws, support for the work of God, etc. Levites are particularly involved with the wood offering, plus the reception, storage and distribution of firstfruits and tithes, Neh.10.34,37,38.
Concern about the sparse population of Jerusalem led to the conscription of ten per cent of the people to relocate there. This demanded a sacrifice by such already settled in rural areas. City life would not appeal to everyone and Jerusalem was a city under constant threat. Nevertheless the request was complied with, those who volunteered being recorded. Those Levites involved, Neh.11.3,15-19, included one who "was the principal to begin the thanksgiving in prayer", a very important man indeed! There would be no embarrassing opening pauses with Mattaniah present!!
Maintenance of scriptural requirements demands a generational rededication and renewal of effort. However, departure can often come from unexpected quarters. Eliashib, the high priest, now has a business agreement with the Jew’s enemy, Tobiah, to transform a "great chamber" in the temple (used by Levites to store dedicated things) into a storeroom for Tobiah’s "household stuff" Neh.13.4-9. Nehemiah soon sorted that out! But are we guilty of letting ‘stuff’ displace capacity we should be employing for the Lord? Attention certainly has to be given to legitimate things in life, but do our lives really give priority to the spiritual?
Nehemiah corrected another deficiency, Neh.13.10-14. Neglect of tithing meant that Levites could not wholly dedicate themselves to their respective duties, and had to work their fields to provide food. Those called by God to full-time service for Him, and who are fulfilling that call, should be able to count upon the practical support of their commending (and other) assemblies and individual exercised believers.
Nehemiah also commanded the Levites to "cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day" Neh.13.22. These Levites were vital to reverse the drift towards commercial activity on the sabbath. No doubt there was a ‘what’s the harm in it’ or ‘everyone else is doing it’ mentality, but it was that very attitude which earlier led to violation of the sabbath provisions, Leviticus chapter 25. That disregard led to the seventy years of Babylonian exile from which they had been recovered.
The book of Nehemiah ends, as did Ezra, with breakdown of godly separation following interracial marriage with idolaters. The high priest’s family was also implicated, with Eliashib’s grandson being son-in-law of Sanballat, Israel’s bitterest enemy. Nehemiah is uncompromising, "therefore I chased him from me", and prays, "‘Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites.’ Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business … ‘Remember me, O my God, for good’" Neh.13.28-30.
"So that we may boldly say, ‘The Lord is my helper’" Hebrews 13.6
How small our problems must appear to the Maker of heaven and earth; "He, Whose almighty word, chaos and darkness heard, and took their flight."
No problem or difficulty arose to prevent Him from completing the grand work of creation and in the time of His choosing. He did not have to extend the deadline or alter the design; nor did He have to omit any part of the great project. When it was complete, exactly as He had planned it, "God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good" Gen.1.31. What satisfaction was His when He surveyed the vast work.
This God has promised to be our helper; to undertake for us in our frailty and meet our every need. May we be enabled to focus on His greatness and watch our problems shrink before the invincible might of the Omnipotent.
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while life shall last,
And our eternal home.
"Why hast Thou forgotten me?" Psalm 42.9
"… Yet will I not forget thee" Isaiah 49.15
Sometimes our hearts break because God seems not to hear our cries and answer our prayers. We wonder if He has forgotten us and the devil makes us doubt His love. C.H. Spurgeon wrote, "When thy God hides His face, say not that He has forgotten thee. He is but tarrying a little while to make thee love Him better; and thou shalt rejoice with joy unspeakable."
What thoughts must have filled the minds of Martha and Mary as they struggled to come to terms with the Saviour’s delay! Why, why, why had He not come immediately? Every passing hour seemed like days until the wait and worry became well-nigh intolerable.
His tenderness and tears soon dispelled any misconceptions troubling their minds and soon their grief was replaced by indescribable gladness as Lazarus emerged from the tomb, summoned to life and liberty by the irresistible command of Christ.
The first section of chapter 2 embraces vv.1-9, and contains the apostle’s teaching about salvation. Unlike chapter one, where he is engaged in praise and prayer and where the reader learns by ‘listening in’ to the apostle, here the apostle is speaking directly to the reader. While chapter one focuses primarily on the blessings that flow from salvation, here the apostle concentrates on salvation itself. He contrasts the state of the unsaved with that of the saved. It is interesting to note that in an epistle which has much to say about the power and influence of angels, he ascribes the state of the unsaved to the devil, whom he describes as a "prince" and a "spirit". Though they may not appreciate it, the unsaved are under the domination of the devil.
The apostle describes the way in which salvation is received. He points out that without the love of God and His mercy and grace it would be impossible, vv.4,5. On our part there must be a response to His love. Faith is the condition placed by God on the reception of salvation. Why is the apostle teaching them this? The Ephesians were not Jews who had to be weaned away from the idea that their good works would procure salvation. It may be that Paul is teaching them that salvation comes from a God that is unlike the cruel and capricious gods of pagan mythology. In the beginning He created mankind but because of sin they died, Gen.2.17. This was a spiritual as well as physical death. Rather than being God’s children mankind became the "children of disobedience". Now through salvation He is making man again, v.10, so that they might live again and enjoy the fellowship that Adam forfeited. Although the full realisation of life, resurrection and ascension, remain future, Christians are in some measure in the good of this new life here and now, v.5.
A Reconciled People
Although the Jew and Gentile divide is not a major issue for us, it was a major issue for the apostle. The early church was predominantly Jewish and a lot of the early Christians struggled to accept Gentiles. Paul himself was a Jew and the idea that Jew and Gentile should be united was not what he had been reared to believe. His teaching in Ephesians is not directed at reluctant Jews but uncomprehending Gentiles. He wishes them to appreciate the enormity of the change accomplished in the gospel. God had hitherto directed His blessings to the nation of Israel but now He had embraced the whole world, vv.12,13. He speaks of this as equivalent to the knocking down of a wall. A wall divides and God had removed the cause of division. There was much that divided a Jew from a Gentile. In context it seems likely that the wall represents the ceremonial law, v.15, since it excluded Gentiles and asked them to submit to customs which they would have found alien.
Paul’s case for the inclusion of Jew and Gentile alike in one new entity called the Church begins with the cross. The inclusion of Jew and Gentile is because of the "blood of Christ". Why the death of Christ required the union of Jew and Gentile is not specified. The implication may be that it is unthinkable that the sacrificial death of God’s Son should be limited to one nation or that the ceremony of the Law should continue after the final sacrifice for sin. He also relies on the Lord’s own message of reconciliation and unity, v.17. The Lord Jesus had reached out to Gentiles whether it be the Samaritans, Jn.4.1-30, (relatives of the Jew) or complete strangers such as the Gentile centurion, Lk.7.1-10, or the Canaanite woman, Matt.15.21-28. What Paul now does is to continue the message preached by Christ and extend forgiveness to all through the death and resurrection.
A Reunited People
God’s promise to Abraham separated the nation coming from him (through Isaac and Jacob) from the other nations. At the giving of the Law that status was formalised. The sons of Jacob were chosen for blessing, and the Covenant of Law entered at Sinai bound Israel to the Lord as His own people. The Gentiles, all non-Jewish people, lay outside this covenant. The nation of Israel proved that no matter how much privilege they enjoyed, man was still unable to obey God. Hence Law was superseded by grace. God reunited the Jew and Gentile through the cross. In the Church God, is combining people of all nations. Paul describes this new body in a number of ways: a "man" v.15; a society, v.19; a "household" v.19; and a "temple" vv.20,21. Each of these metaphors underlines the unity of the Church. A body may have many members but it is united. A society may have many citizens but it is one group. A household may compose of a variety of people but they are one family. A temple may have many chambers and courts but it is one building. That said, not all members of the Church are the same without differentiation. The temple has one keystone and a finite number of foundation stones. It has one Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the founder of the Church. Contrary to the claims of the Roman Catholic Church and many other denominations there is no apostolic succession or prophetic continuity. The apostles and prophets were foundational gifts.
EPHESIANS CHAPTER THREE
The imprisonment that Paresn v.1 began when Paul was arrested by the Romans. He was arrested in an earthly temple, Acts 21.28,33 because of his desire to create a spiritual temple, 2.21. Even thg this message of forgiveness and reconciliation brought him great hardship he saw the task as a privilege as well as a responsibility, vv.2,7. This did not ‘turn his head’. Although he was prodigiously gifted and unflagging in his zeal, he still felt "less than the least of all saints" v.8. This sense of unworthiness may have been due in part to the fact that he had once persecuted Christians. To preach the gospel to Gentiles was a small way of showing his appreciation for the grace shown to him, v.7.
The Mystery of the Gospel
The idea that Jew and Gentile would be blessed on the same basis and have the same privileges, v.6, was not taught in the Old Testament, v.5. Paul, Acts 9.15,16; 26.12-18, and Peter, Acts 10.9-48, were given special revelations to convince them of this truth. This passage indicates that the other apostles received similar revelation, v.5. Paul stresses that it was not a change of mind by God. The aim of uniting Jew and Gentile was conceived in eternity, v.11. A truth not mentioned in the Old Testament but revealed in the New Testament is often called a "mystery". There are a number of mystery doctrines.1 Vv.3,4,9 apply the term to the union of Jew and Gentile. V.9 in particular is a good example of how the term is used. It is a "mystery" not because it is not understood but because it was formerly unknown. Thus, although the doctrine is now comprehensible it was previously a mystery.
1. e.g. the mystery of the resurrection of the Church – 1Cor.15.51; the mystery of the Deity and humanity of Christ – 1Tim.3.16
The Magnificence of the Gospel
There is also a heavenly dimension to the message. Paul teaches that angels learn from the Church, v.10, the "manifold wisdom of God". The idea seems to be that God’s wisdom can express itself in many different ways. In context this suggests that the enormous diversity of people that would form the Church would not be its downfall but would actually display God’s wisdom. Angels perhaps were not acquainted with the idea that God’s glory could be promoted by people from a variety of races, nations and backgrounds. Unlike Israel the Church was varied in its composition. That such a union was possible declared the wisdom of God.
The Measurements of the Gospel
The chapter closes with prayer and praise. His prayer is that they might be energised by the power of the Spirit and comforted by the presence of Christ. Usually emphasis is laid on the truth of the indwelling Spirit but here Paul speaks of the indwelling Christ. "Dwelling" is the opposite of visiting. Dwelling involves permanent residence. Paul’s desire is that Christ should be a resident in the lives of the Ephesians, not a mere visitor. His prayer ends with some of the most famous words ever penned by the apostle. He desires that they might know the ‘unknowable’ v.19, the love of Christ. In other words he prays that the Ephesians might have an appreciation of something they would never fully understand. In order to make this point the apostle refers to the love of Christ in ‘4D’. Most things have three dimensions: length, breadth and height, but he adds a fourth: depth. This stresses the supernatural love of the Lord Jesus. His desire is not merely that they should be in awe of that love but that it might have a stabilising influence on them, v.17. He closes by directing praise to God and desiring that the Church of which he has spoken might bring glory to God the Father not only in the present age but in all ages to come.
As a risen people enjoying the life of Christ we have a new object for our minds. It may be good to examine how much time we actually spend being occupied with the things which are above.
What do we know of heaven and the place of exaltation where the Lord Jesus is now enthroned?
People in the world wonder where our pleasures are and what does our life consist of? We are misunderstood by all now but one day we will come out of heaven with Christ when He returns to set up His visible manifested kingdom in this world that today has rejected Him and us. Then the true nature of what it means to be linked with a glorified Man will be made evident to all.
Thus, in a world that is so concerned about "image projection", we as believers ought to solely endeavour to present the image of our exalted Lord.
Risen with Christ
The Glories of Christ Occupying our Minds, vv.1-4
At the end of chapter 2 Paul reminded us that we died with Christ when He died. Now we are instructed that we were also raised with Christ and as a result our ambitions are completely changed. We are to demonstrate an earnest desire for heavenly things, being occupied with the truth that the Lord Jesus is on the right hand of God. The right hand is the place of power and privilege. Could it be that our minds are more often directed towards the horizontal outlook of this world rather than the more spiritual vertical sphere? We are to have elevated thoughts because we are linked with an elevated Person in glory. We died and the self-life, living for earthly temporal pleasures, no longer has any appeal to us.
Our actual life is not evident here on earth; it is lived where Christ is and hidden in God from the eyes of men. However our life will be seen one day when the Lord returns in His manifested glory. Paul anticipates that day in 2Thess.1.10: "When He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe."
Col.3.3 reminds us: "For ye are dead [‘ye died’], and your life is hid with Christ in God." Let us consider the hidden life.
What do we understand about the hidden life?
A common explanation of this is that the Christian’s life is an enigma to the unbelievers around and they cannot understand it. This of course is true but it is not the complete story. Just exactly what is the hidden life to the believer and to what degree am I living it out?
The hidden life is the resurrection life of Christ: Definition
Firstly, I must recognise that "I died". Now here is a startling truth to grasp! Verse 20 of chapter 2 asserts that "ye died with Christ". When Christ died I died representatively with Him. 3.1 states that I was raised with Him. Since I died and was raised then it is not my life that is being lived but, as v.4 instructs us, it is "Christ, who is our life". We are possessors of the resurrection life of Christ. Paul tells the Colossians that this life is above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God.
This life must be sought after, Col.3.1: Aspiration
Our death and resurrection with Christ is once and for all and never needs to be repeated. However, seeking the things which are above is in the present imperative, signifying the need to keep on seeking. What are these things? They are God and Christ exalted above: the sovereign throne where He sits, the holy sanctuary where He is worshipped, the exalted station which He enjoys at the right hand of God. Have I been there today? When I went was it just with a list of requests or was it to earnestly wonder and worship in His majestic presence? He is the heavenly Benjamin, the "Son of the right hand"! He became Benoni, "Son of my sorrow", but that is now past.
In the Hebrew letter there are four references to the throne, which bring the greatness of Christ before us:
1.8 – "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever". He is God.
Authority of that throne – absolute
Deity Who is on that throne – addressed as God by the Father
Perpetuity of that throne – for ever and ever
Integrity of that throne – sceptre is a right sceptre. Righteousness reigns
4.16 – "The throne of grace". He provides Grace for His people.
8.1 – "Set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens". He is surrounded by Glory.
12.2 – "The right hand of the throne of God". Underlines His Greatness.
Privilege and power are represented by the fact that He is on the right hand. As we come near to God do we have the consciousness that we are before the throne? The Israelites no doubt were familiar with this through the presence of the ark of the covenant in the Holiest of all. To them this chest, overlaid within and without with pure gold and covered by the lid of the solid gold mercy seat and overshadowed by the cherubim, was the representation of God’s throne in their midst. Between those cherubim rested the Shekinah, symbolising the glory of the presence of God. Brethren, this was only a picture illustration of the real throne above with real living cherubim and surrounded by the unsullied glory of the magnificence of God. It is to such exalted heights we rise, when we come to pray and worship!
When we close our eyes to draw near what happens in our minds? Does everything go blank and dark or are we gazing on the gold of His glory and filled with the reality and awe of the truth that we are before the very presence of the God Who sits upon the throne?
This life must be embraced in a fixed attitude of mind, Col.3.2: Occupation
"Set your affection [‘mind’] on things above" v.2. This is the mind enlightened and instructed by the mind of God through His Word. It is also the mind attracted and engaged with Christ in glory.
To enjoy this life the things of earth must lose their appeal, Col.3.2: Prohibition
We cannot, like Israel, keep harking back to the things of Egypt. The leeks, onions, garlics and cucumbers were, for some, to be preferred to the manna, Num.11.4-6. There is hidden manna to feast on above and the old corn of the land to satisfy our longing souls. "Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace."
This life must be lived by faith, Gal.2.20: Motivation
"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me."
One day this life will be manifested, Col.3.4: Manifestation
Paul anticipates this in 2Thess.1.10: "When He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe".
The Mortification of our Members, vv.5-9
Having dealt with the occupation of our minds, Paul now turns to the mortification of our members. He deals with three categories of sins, which may be summed up under the following headings: immoral lusts, vv.5-7, injurious actions, v.8, and inappropriate language, vv.8,9:
We have to put to death any of these sins whenever they raise their heads and we must be ruthless and relentless in attending to them. They include: illicit sexual intercourse, impure thoughts, lustful passions, evil desires, and the basic root that covers all of these, namely, the sin of covetousness. This is literally "the desire to have more" and reminds us that the flesh is never satisfied. Covetousness is called idolatry because it dethrones God and displaces Christ in our affections, in order to pursue what the flesh craves for itself.
For the practice of these sins the retribution of God will fall on those characterised by unbelieving disobedience. These sins belonged to the past life of the Colossians, before they were saved, but now their behaviour is different.
Next Paul instructs them that they are to discard and be done with behaviour that disturbs and damages other people, v.8. Wrath means a settled indignation fermenting in the heart and anger is the furious outburst of temper like a fire bursting out in the straw! Malice is the perverse inclination to cause harm to someone, slander is to revile and filthy communication is abusive speech. Along with all these, lying, which is really any kind of falsehood, is to be discarded once for all.
The Old and the New Man, vv.9-11
Paul reminds them that the old man has been put off and the characteristics just listed all belong to the man we once were in Adam (compare Rom.6.6 and Eph.4.22). Note that there is also the old covenant and the old leaven as well as the old man! There is therefore no place for these in the expression of the new man created by the Lord. The new man is renewed in knowledge and represents Christ, as well as resembling Him in reflecting His image. The ultimate purpose of God for us is that we might be "conformed to the image of His Son" and the inward work of accomplishing that has begun with the creation of the new man.
In this new creation there is no place for racial, religious, cultural or social boundaries, v.11. Paul asserts that there is only Christ, Who is all and in all. He is everything that is required and He is in everything that is worthwhile.
In Matt.12.41,42 we read that the Lord Jesus is greater than Jonah and greater than Solomon. I know that every saint would agree with me that the Lord Jesus is the greatest Person Who ever lived here on earth.
IN HIS PRE-EXISTENCE
When the Lord Jesus said, "Before Abraham was, I am" Jn.8.58, He used the Divine title revealed to Moses in Ex.3.14. Before the world ever existed there was reciprocal love and appreciation between Divine Persons. The nearest and dearest of human relationships are but as strangers compared to the intimacy that existed between Father and Son, and that from all eternity. What a wonder it is to us that He is the One the Father gave to the death of the cross!
Holy Father! Who with yearning
Of eternal love didst see,
Hatred in my bosom burning,
Thou didst give Thy Son for me,
O Blessed Lord, what hast Thou done!
How vast a ransom paid!
God’s only well-beloved Son
Upon the altar laid!
IN HIS INCARNATION
In His incarnation the Lord Jesus became something that He never was before, a perfect human being, but He never ceased to be what He eternally was, the Son of God. Ever since His incarnation, He has had two perfect complete natures in indissoluble union in His one blessed Person. He had full absolute Deity and sinless, holy humanity. He had to be both God and man in order to be our Saviour. He had to be a man in order to die, for God never dies; and He had to be God in order to bear all the punishment that our sins deserved. His humanity made His sacrifice possible; His Deity made His sacrifice of infinite value.
We can consider His two natures separately but we should never divide His Person! Pondering Mk.4.37-39, we should not say that we see His humanity when He was asleep and His Deity when He calmed the wind and sea, but we can accurately say that the fact that He slept vividly shows us that He is a real human, and His calming the wind and the sea is a powerful demonstration of His Deity. At least four of His apostles were fishermen. They had seen many a calm after a storm, when the wind died down but the sea kept on raging for quite a time afterwards, but they never had seen such a sudden calm as this one! The Lord Jesus not only rebuked the wind but He said to the sea, "Peace, be still". No wonder that Mk.4.41 records that the men "said one to another, ‘What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?’"
The Lord Jesus Christ is the only Person Who was ever born holy. Gabriel, announcing His conception to the virgin Mary, said "... wherefore also that which is to be born shall be called holy, the Son of God" Lk.1.35, R.V. He was also the only Person ever born without a sinful nature. Adam was created innocent but he was not created holy!
The poem ‘Immanuel’ has beautiful lines:
Like man He walked, Like God He talked,
His words were oracles, His works were miracles,
Of God the true expression, Of man the finest specimen,
Full orbed humanity, Crowned with Deity,
No taint of iniquity, No trace of infirmity,
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail Incarnate Deity!
IN HIS BOYHOOD
When He was twelve years of age, Joseph and His mother found Him in the temple "sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions" Lk.2.46. That was perfectly fitting for a twelve-year-old boy. However, the doctors in turn asked Him questions: "And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers" Lk.2.47.
There are two consecutive verses in Psalm 119 that apply to the Lord Jesus more than to any other man. The first is: "I have more understanding than all my teachers: for Thy testimonies are my meditation" Ps.119.99. No one ever meditated on the Word of God like the Lord Jesus. Psalm 2 is about God’s King. Psalm 1 is about God’s man and in v.2 we read, "In His law doth he meditate day and night". May the Lord help us to meditate on the Word of God more and more like Him! As Paul wrote to Timothy, "Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all" 1Tim.4.15. God’s word to Joshua after the death of Moses was, "This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success" Josh.1.8.
The second is v.100: "I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Thy precepts". No one ever kept God’s precepts like the Lord Jesus. "As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you" Jn.15.9. His love for us is incredible. He goes on to say in the same verse, "Continue ye in My love". He wants us to continue in the enjoyment of His love. "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" Jn.15.10. I know none of us would claim to have kept His commandments to the same degree that He kept His Father’s commandments, but that is the goal that He has set before us.
The Lord Jesus wanted to do His Father’s will with His whole being at twelve years of age. It was so natural to Him and such a matter of course to Him that He expressed surprise that Mary and Joseph had not perceived it. "How is it that ye sought Me? wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?" Lk.2.49. Interestingly, these are His first recorded public words. The last recorded words before He died were also about His Father, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit" Lk.23.46.
IN HIS DEVELOPMENT AS A TEENAGER AND IN HIS TWENTIES
Lk.2.52 states: "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man". That verse is a marvellous summary of the eighteen years before His baptism. His development was natural but perfect for every stage. The Father did not hesitate to say at His baptism, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" Matt.3.17; even though God knew that immediately after His baptism He would be led of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. He knew that the Son was impeccable and would never succumb to any of the devil’s temptations. God’s words at the Son’s baptism show that He was well pleased with every day of the first thirty years of His life on earth. May the Lord help each one of us to grow spiritually and become more like our Lord Jesus. "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" 2Cor.3.18.
Sometimes we sing, "Take time to be holy". One way we can become more holy is by beholding Him. The Lord Jesus lived out in perfection every characteristic of Divine love in 1Corinthians chapter 13 and every characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit in Gal.5.22,23. He was the true meal offering of fine flour with no unevenness in it. He had every desirable characteristic in perfect blend, Lev.2.1. In 2Pet.3.18, we are exhorted, "But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ". We all need the Word of God each day to grow spiritually. "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby" 1Pet.2.2.
Perhaps there are many who do not know what the initial letters used as the heading of this article mean. They are used as a short way of describing the ‘Global Positioning System’. When this device was developed it caused the manner in which directions to desired destinations were found to be rethought. It was very useful on a vast range of journeys, both terrestrial and stellar. The ability to pinpoint a house while riding a bicycle, either in a very large housing estate or a remote rural dwelling, or to know exactly the location of a satellite hurtling through space, is quite amazing.
People were confident that, while they were unfamiliar with the general area, or the city, in which they were searching, they would find the right way to get to the place they desired to reach. The GPS became an essential piece of equipment in cars, vans, articulated trucks etc. and was not considered as an optional extra; it was a ‘must have’.
However, problems arose in some situations. The system was designed mainly for cars and it was not generally realised that a different GPS was required by larger vehicles. As a result some larger trucks were routed to narrow roads and lanes, or under low bridges, with no possibility of either turning or reversing. Where this happened the result was chaos.
There is one destination that every right-thinking person desires to reach and there is only one right route. We read that the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ, was asked by Thomas, one of His disciples, concerning the way to heaven: "Thomas saith unto Him, ‘Lord, we know not whither Thou goest; and how can we know the way?’" In His response, we read that "Jesus saith unto him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me’" John 14.5,6. While there may be many different GPSs, different in design, size, colour etc., there is only one way to get to heaven when life is over. Note carefully the words of two major apostles: Peter said, "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" Acts 4.12. Paul stated, "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time" 1Timothy 2.5,6. He was the only One Who could pay the price of our redemption and ensure for us a safe journey to heaven. The following quotations from Peter’s writings are clear and need no explanation: "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit ..." 1Peter 3.18; "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 ..." 1Peter 1.18,19.
We may be able to neglect man’s GPS, but never God’s: "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him …?" Hebrews 2.3. To neglect God’s offer of salvation would be disastrous. Please rely on God’s Son and be securely saved for all eternity. In Acts 16.31 we read, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved ..."
"These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto Him … hands that shed innocent blood" Proverbs 6.16,17
Early in the Bible we read that "Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man" Gen.9.6. Right from the instructions for the cities of refuge, Deut.19.10, all the way through Scripture, to the remorse of Judas Iscariot, Matt.27.4, the shedding of "innocent blood" is particularly censured. There is no more evident case of "innocent blood" than the lives of unborn babies. It is a demonstration of the depth of the wickedness of the world in which we live, that, in many lands, abortion is being aggressively promoted and legislated for. Let us never forget how our God views it: it is the object of His hatred, "an abomination unto Him".
"These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto Him … he that soweth discord among brethren" Proverbs 6.16,19
One who engages in this activity among fellow-believers is doing a disloyal work: it is against "brethren", members of the same spiritual family, who ought to be the objects of our love, 1Jn.3.14. It is a destructive work: in the very first book in our Bible Abram expressed to Lot the corrosive effect of discord: "Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee … for we be brethren" Gen.13.8. What makes it all the more sad is that it is a deliberate work: the form of the word "soweth" denotes intense purpose. It is no wonder that it is a detestable work: hated by the LORD Himself. If any reading these words is engaged in it, let him or her desist forthwith. "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" Ps.133.1.