Every community of people consists of individuals of varying temperaments and tempers, and where such exist almost unavoidably there will be a clash of personalities. The New Birth does not destroy individuality, but rather enhances it. It releases potentialities which until that experience were unrecognized. Individuality, however, presents its problems; but notwithstanding, there is given the opportunity to bring into operation the grace of God manifesting itself in tolerance and forgiveness, ‘forbearing one another in love’.
Yet despite the impartation of a new nature, often trivial matters are permitted to be a cause of dissension, as in the case of Barnabas and Paul when they contemplated a second missionary journey. They differed over the defection of John Mark when he abandoned them on the first journey. Perhaps Barnabas was prejudiced through family relationship, and Paul may have lacked sympathy for the young man who had probably found the going too hard for him. Although God, in His providence, overruled, yet it is recorded that ‘the contention was so sharp between them that they departed asunder the one from the other (Acts 15:2-9).
How often a similar circumstance has marred the fellowship within a Christian assembly, or has broken the friendship between two formerly fast friends! Had heed been taken to the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, the outcome would have been different. Injured pride, nursing a seeming grievance, can easily magnify an unintended injury, and make a mountain out of a mole hill. Jealousy, too, can be a contributory factor. A little acquaintance with the teaching of the parable of ‘the mote and the beam’ would lead to criticism of self before there might be condemnation of others.
Read the section in To-day’s English Version. ‘Do not judge others, so that God will not judge you, because God will judge you in the same way you judge others, and he will a only to vou the same rules you apply to others. Why. then do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, and pay no attention to the log in your own eye? How dare you say to to your brother, ‘Please, let me take the speck out of your eye’, when you have a log in your own eye? You impostor! Take the log out of your own eye first, and then you will be able to see and take the speck out of your brother’s eye’ (Matthew 7:1-5).
That condensed parable is most vivid and arresting. The language is called parabolic hyperbole, that is, according to the dictionary definition, ‘a figure of speech consisting in exaggerated statement, used to express strong feeling, or produce a strong impression, and not intended to be taken literally’. It was a method frequently adopted by our Lord. He contrasted bread with a stone; fish with a serpent; a camel with a gnat, a mote with a beam, (or a splinter with a log). ‘Hyperbole’, writes W. A. Curtis, ‘ventures to state what is apparently impossible or incredible or unnatural, it does not so much distort the truth, as overstate it, heightening its form in order to impress dull vision with its existence, and challenging even the slowest understanding by its manifest disproportion, so that in the recoil or the reaction under the shock of surprise, its sober and essential meaning is both recognized and remembered’. How impossible it is for a person to have a log of wood in his eve! How arresting the language of the contrast is, coming from the Carpenter!
In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord is the Prophet of Righteousness, full of sympathetic wisdom, concerned for moral rectitude among His disciples, and tenderly compassionate towards those who are misunderstood, Perhaps that is the significant feature of the Beatitudes, as the connective ‘for’ in each instance indicates. In that category may be placed the man with the mote in his eye who was the object of the harsh and uncalled for criticism by the man who had the beam in his eye and was not aware of it. Yet how stern the Teacher could be! While in all probability there was a touch of kindly human humour in the suggestion that a man have a log of wood in his eye and not be cognizant of it, the severity of the intention cannot be missed.
The problem, however, is that the man who is over-critical with his brother is not conscious of his being so—blind to his own deficiencies. Perhaps the Lord’s intention was that every one of His hearers, and for that matter of it, every one of us, should take the lesson to heart, and undertake a course of self-examination to discover the possibility of turning a blind eye to one’s own shortcomings. To pass judgement upon oneself is much more difficult than to tender criticism of another. And who is not guilty?
Is it the leader who is usually more critical of the less prominent brother? Or is the shoe on the other man’s foot? The leader can guide only if he is capable of seeing where he is going, and the man with the beam in his eye cannot do that any more than can the man with the splinter in his eye. In both situations, it is a case of the blind leading the blind.
Hunting for the mote in the eye of a brother may give an unwarranted pleasure to the man with the beam, but the practice is to be condemned outright. It is a tendency inherent in human nature which should find itself rebuked by the higher ethical standards demanded by the new life which has been imparted by the Holy Spirit; and ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love’. However, ‘the ban on speck-hunting does not of course mean that Christians must condone evil or refrain from forming moral judgements. This is a parable about personal relationships Pseudo-religion, which Jesus calls hypocrisy, is forever trying to make other people better, and a cure for it a mirror’ (G. B. Caird). The mirror, James, in his epistle, tells us is the word of God. The Bible read with care and exercise cannot fail to reveal in even the best of us (i.e. in our own opinions) glaring inconsistencies which almost amount to the dimensions of a beam. In the context of the passage the sequence of thought seems to be this: the disciples have been urged to forgive one another so that they on their part may enjoy divine forgiveness. In the same manner they are not to judge one another so that they may not find themselves treated in a similar fashion by God at the Judgement Seat, The inference is that although others may not know all about the criticism one brother has levelled against another, God knows, and His judgement will be impartial. That is a sobering thought! Criticism should begin first with one’s self, and the discovery of much that may be displeasing to God will prevent unjust criticism of others.
Removing the beam from one’s own eye means the discovery in the presence of God how far short one has come of the standard of conduct demanded by true disciple-ship, confessing short-coming before God, and, consequently enjoying the experience of forgiveness. In that manner the defect in spiritual sight is removed, and in the spirit of Christian generosity the forgiven person can show a forgiving spirit towards the other; and so both the beam and the mote are removed.
Four simple rules may be followed:—
Don’t sit in judgement unless you are convinced it is your duty to do so.
Distinguish between the offence and the offender, i.e. avoid personal prejudices.
Remember that with your human limitations you cannot judge motives.
Remember your own tendency to failures, and take into consideration the possible ignorance and the inherent weakness of the person you put under judgement.
Our judgement may be unjust. God’s judgement is always just. The severity of the judgement we measure out to others will become the measure by which God will finally judge ourselves. The process of self-investigation ‘expresses prolonged attention and observation. Careful consideration of one’s own faults must precede attention to those of other’s’ (Plummer). It is salutory to confess in the words of Robert Burns
CHAPTER 6 — The window open — the lions’ mouths shut. “Thy God, He will deliver.”
IN ONE night of impious defiance and debauchery, world dominion passed from the power represented by the head of gold to that of the silver arms and chest of the prophetic image. It may have been some desire to exercise a measure of control of the extremely mixed company of nations by means of some of their own people which caused Darius to set up his large council with its three presidents. Probably he had heard of the exaltation of Daniel on the night of the overthrow, and of his eminent wisdom. This may have led him to appoint Daniel as the supreme president, “because an excellent spirit was in him, and the king thought to set him over the whole realm” (v. 3). Thus the aged prophet was given overall responsibility for the affairs of the kingdom, which would include control of all the taxing systems and administrative duties. What a wonderful testimony is given concerning his fidelity by the unprincipled political schemers, his fellow presidents and the council. Envy, corruption and most probably avarice led them to seek his overthrow, but they confess “they could find ... no fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault in him” (v. 4). but as a loophole, they add, “except we find it against him concerning the law of his God” (v. 5). What an ambition for every child of God, to merit such a testimony. Inflexible fidelity in all matters concerning his duty but supreme above all other rule, strict adherence to the will and purpose of his God marked Daniel’s ways. With Satanic cunning the plotters look for a loophole and the only possibility they acknowledge, is in his esteem of the word of the Lord above that of any ruler. Just as the tempter came in the garden, so these devil-inspired plotters come to the king with the same insidious weapons, lying tongues and pride of heart. In effect they ask the king to exalt himself to the status of a god to demonstrate his supreme authority to grant petitions for a period of thirty days. Deceived by the flattery he fails to detect the lie, though he knew very well that the chief of all the presidents, Daniel would not be a party to such a proposal. Such an excellent ruler as Darius should have suspected the cunning move when the councillors came so suavely without the presence of his chief president, but such is the power of the tongue of flattery that he permits himself to be inextricably trapped, signing the writing which then, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, could not be changed. When the law of man runs contrary to the law of God, the man of God should stand fast to his purpose to follow the Lord wholly. Whilst there is a work to be accomplished the attitude should be that of Nehemiah “should such a man as I flee?” Nehemiah 6:11.
Thus Daniel, no doubt aware of the intrigue and sensing its object, was unmoved by fear and went into his house to give thanks “before his God, as he did aforetime.” Without ostentation, but also without fear, leaving windows already open toward Jerusalem just as they were, casting his eyes toward the city in which God had promised to dwell, he fell on his knees to pray three times a day. (v. 10). How eagerly and expectantly the enemies watched. Such was their knowledge of Daniel’s purpose of heart that they knew their scheming would not deflect him from his worship of God. Exulting therefore, they press upon the king the course which he must take. How evident is the deterioration of authority as represented in Nebuchadnezzar’s image, from the gold of the head to the silver. No longer can authority say “whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive” (ch. 5:19). The law of the state must now overrule the king’s fervent desire. Too late the king realised the effect of his assent to the request of Daniel’s enemies, but though he “set his heart on Daniel to deliver him” (v. 14). in sore displeasure he had to submit to the fiendish pressure of the presidents and governors and give the command to cast Daniel into the pit with the lions. Though as the order was obeyed, he could speak words of encouragement to Daniel, his words could not give any comfort to his own heart, for the king “passed the night fasting ... and his sleep fled from him” v. 18. Daniel meanwhile could confidently rest on the promises of his God, voiced by the king “Thy God whom thou servest continually, He will deliver thee” v. 16. Thus whilst the king in penitent grief waited anxiously for the morning, Daniel lay secure no doubt meditating on such words as those of the psalmist David as he hid in the cave of Adullam. “In the shadow of Thy wings will I take refuge ... I will cry unto God ... that performeth all things for me. He shall send from heaven and save me — my soul is among lions” (Ps. 57:2,3,4). Did the king remember his words of hope to Daniel as he rose so very early in the morning and went in haste to the den of lions? His words were turned to a question “Is thy God whom thou servest continually able to deliver thee from the lions?” v. 19:20. Confidently came the reply “My God ... hath shut the lion’s mouth”, v. 22. continuing with a declaration of his innocence toward God and the King. No such restraint controlled the lions, when the king commanded that the conspirators with their families be cast to the lions. The ferocity was emphasised by the fact that retribution came upon them even before they fell to the bottom of the pit. How different from the situation of Daniel, for “no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he had trusted in his God”, (v. 23). As the evidence of the mighty hand of God led Nebuchadnezzar to acknowledge and “praise and extol and honour the King of Heaven” (ch. 4:37). so now the king Darius makes a decree to all the peoples in his realms “that men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, He is the living God ... His kingdom ... shall not be destroyed” (v. 26). But men are not easily moved by the decrees of other men, even though before their eyes there is the evidence of God’s power and blessing. So “this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian” (v. 28). Over a hundred years before this monarch Cyrus had been born, the Spirit of God had named him as the one through whom God’s people would be restored to their land. In Isaiah’s prophecy he is named as My Shepherd. “Cyrus, he is My shepherd, and shall perform all My pleasure: even saying of Jerusalem, She shall be built: and to the temple Thy foundations shall be laid. Thus saith the Lord to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden to subdue nations ... For Jacob My servant’s sake, and Israel My chosen, I have called thee by thy name”. (Isaiah 44:26, 45:1,4). Therefore as recorded in 2 Chronicles 36:23, and Ezra 1:1. “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia,...the Lord, stirred up the spirit of Cyrus ... that he made a proclamation ... The Lord, the God of heaven ... hath charged me to build Him an house in Jerusalem ... Whosoever there is among you of all His people ... let him go up to Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:1, 2, 3).
But though there was rejoicing at this return from exile, there was no continued peace in the land. Though the restored people refrained from idols there was still hardness of heart, and even when God fulfilled His word giving the sign “behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel”. “For unto us a Child is born. Unto us a Son is given” Isaiah 7:14. and Ch. 9:6. some five hundred years after their return, the people refused to accept God’s Son as their Lord and king and because of their disobedience were again dispersed. At a later date yet to come when the “times of the Gentiles is fulfilled”, the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people which shall remain, from Assyria, ... Egypt ... the islands of the sea ... and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel ... from the four corners of the earth”. Isaiah 11:11, 12. Though at the close of this time of dispersion will come the time of Jacob’s trouble, he shall be saved out of it. God said “for the greatness of thine iniquity, because thy sins were increased, I have done these things unto thee”. (Jeremiah 30:7, 15). At the close of this period the Antichrist spoken of in 2 Thessalonians 2:4. and also in Daniel shall exalt himself and demand universal worship and all will bow to him except a faithful remnant. But Jeremiah continues with God’s promise, “I will restore health unto thee and I will heal thee of thy wounds” “and ye shall be my people and I will be your God”. Jeremiah 30:17, 22.
Daniel in his faithful witness and facing the testing of the lion’s den typifies the remnant who will be brought through the tribulation. “I will bring the third part through the fire and will refine them ... they shall call on My Name, and I will hear them: 1 will say it is My people, and they shall say The Lord is My God”. Zechariah 13:9. Even as a worldwide proclamation was made following the faithful witness Daniel, so will this faithful remnant be empowered by God to take the gospel of the kingdom to all nations, “the people that know their God shall be strong and do exploits ... they that be wise shall instruct many” Dan. 11:32, 33. These are the witnesses of whom Isaiah speaks Is. 43:10, 12, 21. and Ch. 44:8. so that a great company will hear and will be saved. Revelation 7:14,15.
It is essential to try to understand the import of the three main Covenants, two of them quite unconditional, depending only upon God and His promises and the other conditional upon obedience, and also being temporary. They are as follows:
THE ABRAHAMIC. A promise and oath concerning the Seed and the Land.
THE MOSAIC. The giving of the Law and sacrifices giving the knowledge of God.
THE DAVIDIC. Lordship and supremacy over the nations.
These three covenants were Israel’s claims and these are what they made their boast when in conflict with the Lord Jesus Christ.
John 8:37-44: He told them clearly that though they were Abraham’s SEED they were not Abraham’s children, for such were the children of Faith.
John 7:19: He told them that Moses had given them the Law in which they made their boast but none of them kept the Law.
John 8:33: He told them that though they claimed to be free and were never in bondage to any man. (a complete falsehood) they were the slaves of sin.
So they forfeited all right to the three covenants but the first and last could not under any circumstances be abrogated.
The covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12:1. and 15. 18), was completely unconditional and it was to be fulfilled in the true Seed, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The covenant with Israel through Moses (Exodus 19:25, Romans 5:20, and Galatians 3:19, 24), was conditional, and temporary, the law “came in by the way or by the side” but this was fulfilled by Christ in His life but more especially by His death and resurrection.
The covenant with David (2 Samuel 7:16, 23:5; 1 Chron. 17:7: Psalm 89:27). was unconditional and again relies upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Who will ultimately occupy the throne of His father David and reign. If David’s sons sinned they would be dealt with by discipline but this could not break the covenant.
It must not be thought that the warning to Solomon in 1 Chron. 28:7, 9, militated against the oath to David, for David had more than one son, and it is significant that the Lord Jesus had a double claim to the throne, one through Solomon via his supposed “father” Joseph and another through Nathan, David’s son, via his mother Mary (Luke 3).
Now the promise to Abraham progressed through circumcision to the law, but Paul has shewn us in his epistle to the
Galatians that the believer must not under any circumstances be circumcised otherwise this would cut him off from Christ. We stand simply by faith in Him and rest on the promise made to Abraham. Also when there was failure in Israel, as was often the case, God fell back, as it were upon His promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to keep them in the place of blessing.
Thus we have the prophet, priest and king, fulfilled in Christ but the priesthood secured not through the Aaronic but the Melchizedek priesthood, the law and sacrifices superceded. All, past, present and future secured in Christ.
The Mosaic Covenant fulfilled at the first advent of Christ and the other to be fulfilled at His second Advent.
LAODICEA was a city in the Lycus valley, close to Colosse and Hierapolis, about 100 miles east of Ephesus. It was an important commercial centre, noted for the manufacture of black woollen garments. It also boasted a medical school specialising in the treatment of eye diseases. Archaeologists excavating the site have found pipes that brought water from the warm springs at Hierapolis, but which must have been lukewarm when it arrived at Laodicea.
The church in this city was likely planted by Epaphras, of whom Paul wrote as having a great interest in the three churches in Colosse, Hierapolis and Laodicea, praying and labouring for them abundantly (Colossians 4:12-13). Paul also mentions a letter from Laodicea, but this was possibly a circular letter, most likely the Epistle to the Ephesians, as the words ‘at Ephesus’ (Ephesians 1:1) are missing in many of the earlier manuscripts. This circular letter had possibly gone to Laodicea first, about the same time as Paul had written to Colosse. There is no evidence of a separate letter to Laodicea from Paul.
The Lord introduces Himself to the Laodicean church under a three-fold title:—
The Amen—a Hebrew word for ‘verily’, that is Christ is the One who alone can speak with positiveness; He alone can say, ‘Verily, Verily’; He alone can guarantee things; He alone can fulfil what He promises.
The faithful and true Witness. Here He is seen as the One who will describe accurately and faithfully what He finds in the church. As the faithful Witness He is to be trusted implicity; as the true Witness He fulfils all that a witness should be. Note the same word in v. 7. He is the all-seeing One, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, missing nothing.
The beginning of the creation of God. He is the One who began creation. He made all things, even the very first. This bespeaks His essential deity.
The Lord knew their works. Whilst these are not detailed, yet wherein they exercised themselves their doings revealed the character of the believers, and the faithful and true Witness sets their true character before them.
Their Master saw nothing in them to commend. There is a marked contrast between this letter and that to the church in Philadelphia. This latter was without censure, whilst the Laodicean church had no commendation. The nature of their work was such that the believers were neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm. The Laodiceans knew well from their water supply what the word ‘lukewarm’ implied. They were not so negligent that they did no work for God, nor did they apostatize, else their sin could have been easily brought home to them with a manifest reproof. Nor were they keen and enthusiastic servants of God. They were not diligently serving the Lord with fervent zeal (Romans 12:11). The church was content with the half-hearted way in which it carried out God’s work; it was self-deceived into thinking all was well. The Lord says that He would prefer them to be cold or hot. If cold He would reprove them, as He did Thyatira; their state could be manifested to them. If they had been hot, zealous for God’s work as was the Philadelphian church He would have been delighted to praise them. But the lukewarm church was satisfied with its state, and would be difficult to convince of its failings.
This state of the church demanded special action by the Lord. Because of the lukewarm state the Lord says that He would spue them out His mouth. ‘Lukewarm’ implies something that is distasteful and repulsive. He was greatly displeased with them. To spue them out of His mouth is Christ’s way of expressing His displeasure. The mouth is the organ of appreciation (Rev. 10:10). As the Lord could no longer appreciate the Laodicean church He is about to leave them to themselves and to their self-deception. He would cease to find delight in their service, and reject them from it.
The faithful and true Witness tells them their real condition in His sight, something that they had failed to realise for themselves. But the Lord tells them of their need for improvement. He tells them first of the things they thought were to their advantage and profit, but were not. They thought themselves rich, possibly in material things, which they imagined mattered so much. They had increased these riches, after the pattern of the city where they lived. They felt no need of any thing, thinking that the possession of riches was an indication of God’s favour towards them. As they were self-complacent they considered they had need of nothing. But the Lord reveals that they did not know their true condition. They did not know that they were wretched, that is, the state of one who has to work hard for his living, instead of boasting of his plenty; they were really miserable, deserving of pity instead of being-satisfied; they were poor, not possessing the true riches, spiritual eternal riches to be enjoyed hereafter (Luke 12:21); they were blind - their spiritual insight was defective; they were naked - not clothed with the righteousness of God.
The Lord had a word of counsel for the church to remedy this deplorable state. They thought they had need of nothing, but the Lord advises them to buy of Him three things - gold, raiment, eyesalve. The Lord uses the language of this rich city. He advises them what to buy, and from whom. Buying from Christ implies a costly acquisition of these things. The price was serving Christ, and suffering for His sake. In return they would receive ...
Gold - precious gold, well-refined in the fire. This represents true godliness, Christlikeness, spirituality refined by suffering and persecution, as the result of witnessing for Christ. This is real wealth,
White garments - the emblem of righteousness (Rev. 19:8), which Christ alone can give, and which would cover their nakedness, that they be not ashamed before Him at His coming (1 John 2:28). The Lord here specifically mentions white garments, in contradistinction to the black garments from which the merchants of Laodicea had made their money, possibly unjustly,
Eyesalve - to clear their spiritual vision of the blindness that had overtaken it. This only would be obtained by a diligent attention to the word of God (Ephesians 1:18). The Laodicean pride in their medical school dealing in eye diseases would enable them to appreciate the Lord’s metaphor here,
The Lord explains why He reproves the church thus -because of His love for them. The literal rendering of v. 19 is, I, as many as I love, I rebuke and chasten’. The emphasis is on the I, as much as to say, ‘As for Me, for My part, I am not like other friends, who would fear to reprove you, because of causing offence. But I rebuke because I long to improve you, and because I love you so much as to work entirely for your good, even though it may cause a little present pain. Therefore be zealous, and repent from your ways of self-glorification, as though you did not require My help’.
In v. 20. the Lord sets before the church the true relationship between Himself and them. He shows Himself as One knocking at the door of the church, seeking a place in their worship and service. He is being kept outside of these activities. They worshipped idols as did Thyatira; they served themselves. The waiting Christ then speaks besides knocking. He addresses Himself to an individual believer rather than to the church as a whole. He says in effect, ‘Seeing ye all keep Me outside your plans, if one opens the door of his life to Me I will come in to him, and we shall have sweet fellowship. I will sup with him, and he with Me. I am the bread of life; I am the provider of all things to be richly enjoyed. Thus the mutual time of fellowship will be one of rich blessing to him who opens the door to Me’.
It may be that the Lord is here addressing one of those who had never believed on Him, even though nominally in the church. Christ stands before the door of his heart, and knocks, seeking admission. He appeals to the individual, for salvation is always individual. If anyone expresses a desire to receive Christ by opening the door he would find the Saviour willing to come in and bless him. He would find Christ to be the Living Bread, and that to eat of His flesh and drink of His blood would bring him eternal life (John 6:54). What a luxurious supper!
To this individual, the true overcomer in v. 20, who opens the door, there is a rich reward promised. As he allowed Christ into his heart to sup with Him, so will the Lord grant the overcomer to sit with Him on His throne. In the kingdom of the future he will share Christ’s reign and authority He will receive a similar honour to what God has accorded to Christ, who was ever faithful to His Father.
Again there follows the advice to the individual overcomer who is keen to hear what the Lord has to say to him. He should pay attention to all these counsels to the churches, seeing he has a desire to know the mind of the Spirit. Let him go over these seven letters again and again; to find his true place in them; to find comfort wherein he is commended by his Lord; to find the censure the all-seeing Son of God speaks to his heart. Let him follow the counsel given so lovingly by his Lord, that he might walk worthy of his high calling in Christ Jesus.
All these passages deal with unity amongst the people of God. In John 17 we have the priestly prayer of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, and He here prays for His disciples and those that would be saved through their instrumentality. I want you to notice that in these verses He prays five times over, He makes the petition that they all may be one. I think that that certainly ought to speak to our hearts. He was on the eve of going to the cross, and here He pauses and prays five times over. We hear Him repeat “that they may be one”.
Earlier in the Gospel of John this unity is suggested. In chapter 10, our Lord says there should be one shepherd and one flock, and that surely suggests our unity - one flock, and again in chapter 15 our Lord spoke the parable of the vine, and there in the vine we have unity suggested. Not only so, but in chapter 11, we have the prophecy of Caiaphas, who prophesied that one should die, and that He should gather together in one all the people of God, and we believe that that was one purpose for which our dear Lord suffered and died. It was that His people might be one.
When you think of those three chapters in John 10-11-15, Our Lord was going away, he was about to leave them, and I believe that we have here, just a picture of his present intercession in God’s presence, and if he interceded then, that his people might be one, is he not interceding now that his people might be one? He was leaving them in the world in verse 11.
There is a day coming in the future when the world will know, because they will see Christ and His bride as one.
In John 17 we have this priestly prayer of our Blessed Lord and Saviour, If we had nothing else but our oneness, only that 17th chapter of John, should it not speak to our hearts, and should it not search our hearts. Surely it was a burden to his blessed heart.
In verse 21 - He said that the world may believe.
In verse 23 - He said that the world may know.
This unity that we are thinking about can be viewed in two ways. It can be viewed from the manward side and from the God-ward.
God-ward side: Basically the Church is one, because, as was pointed out, the Church is not an organisation, it is a divine organism. The Church is the body of Christ. The Head is in heaven, and we are the members here upon earth. We are one in Christ Jesus. When He comes and takes us home, not one member will be missing. The true Church is one. Experience teaches that what I said is true. There is an affinity between God’s people which draws us together.
Man-ward side: The practical side, that is to say God’s desire is that we His people should manifest that we are one. They that believed were together, they were of one heart and soul.
In early Acts they were all one - they were united - what harmony and peace there must have been in that early Church. How they must have loved one another. If God had His wav. all His believing people would be in one testimony today. But we know very well how Satan has come in and divided the people of God. Some come here and some go there, and God’s people are at last all divided. God would have everyone of us in the meeting exercised about our responsibility in this matter.
Ephesians 4 deals with the unity of the Spirit, and immediately I want you to notice that he mentions the sevenfold basis upon which this unity rests, He tells us that there is one body and one Spirit and one Head; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all -sevenfold unity.
First three items are internal (invisible)
Second three items are external (visible)
Last item - God the Head, and the source of all the others.
In the very centre of these seven elements we have the Lordship of Christ our Lord. This unity is a unity of a distinctive nature. It is unity after a certain pattern, it is not unity which is maintained just at the expense of divine principles. If I am going to give expression to this unity, then I must know Christ as my Lord. Has this ever exercised your heart?
In this teaching, here is the end of sectarianism, denominationism etc., God’s mind is that the local assembly of His people should give expression to this unity. This unity is being denied all round about us in Christendom. I want you to notice that a little further.
The first reference to the local assembly is Matthew 18. In chapter 16 we have the church in its aggregate form, which embraces all believers from Pentecost to the end of this age.
The Church of God
The Church of His Saints
The Church of the Gentiles
The Church in thy house.
These were local companies of God’s dear people. The apostle says in Ephesians 4 verse 3 “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.
You see, when we meet in assembly fellowship, when we gather at the Lord’s table, that loaf on the table (1st Cor. 10: verse 17, sets forth the unity of God’s people. God has given gifts to His people. They are given for the perfecting of the saints. It is the word used for setting a bone that is out of joint. Mending nets - the thought of Unity
1st Corinthians 12 - Gifts come from the Holy Spirit. You have got the figure of the body (Verse 27) omit ‘the’ - body of Christ. The characteristic of a body. What he means is that each assembly has the character of a body, and he shows just as my body has many members, even so in the assembly, there are many members, and each member has a function to perform.
There is a variety of need - and God in His wisdom and grace has given a variety of gifts to meet it.
There is to be no envying in the body. My ear is not a bit envious of my eye. The apostle applies that to the assembly. You feel that there is brother so and so, he is more gifted than I am - but there is to be no envying in the body of Christ.
Verse 17: There is to be no monopoly in the body. Not one member can possibly do all the work, you cannot do all the functions of the body.
Verse 18: “Everyone as it hath pleased him”. In the body there is to be no idleness. There is work for everyone to do. He hath placed you in the body as it hath pleased Him, and you should be content in the place where He has placed you.
Verse 21: There is to be no independence. We are all needed - I have my work to do and other brethren have their work to do. The one is to have an interest in the other, one is to have a care for the other. What is it all for?...
Verse 25: It is that there should be no schism in the body - no division. In other words, the body is one. We are to do our best in the assembly. We should co-operate with the brethren. It will cost us something. Friction in the assembly is the easiest thing to introduce. When we are subject to Christ, when we are exercised before Him, then there is harmony and peace in the assembly of the Lord’s dear people. How precious it is - it is most precious to Him.
Satan is out to wreck God’s assemblies. Satan is out to introduce parties and cliques, to separate assemblies and bring division into them. May God help us that we may earnestly endeavour to keep the unity in the bond of peace, because it is priceless. It is like the dew in the psalm. It does not come down during a storm, but when everything is calm and still.
1st Corinthians 12 Machinery
1st Corinthians 14 Machinery working
1st Corinthians 13 The oil that keeps it going smoothly
It is the oil of Christian love. God wants every Christian to wear the badge of love. Whatever you do, don’t be a troubler in the Assembly of God’s people. Remember the unity of the assembly is very dear and very precious to our Lord Jesus Christ.
God help us that we may love each other in happy fellowship and in happy unity, cementing God’s people more closely together in bonds of Christian love and fellowship.
We often hear a man referred to as “the leading brother” in an assembly or, for the purpose of enquiry, the question is asked. “Who is the leading brother”?
The brother referred to or asked for is, in our experience, the correspondent for the assembly, one of the elders, and the brother who is the spokesman when receiving visitors welcoming the preacher and making announcements. He has a measure of prominence, in that his voice is often heard and so is being described as “the leading brother”. He is a minister, among the saints as one that serveth, but this title suggest a seniority over his brethren.
It is becoming increasingly the practise, in speech and on notepaper, to describe the correspondent as the “Secretary” or the “Honorary Secretary”. In business and in other associations, the secretary has a senior and important position of responsibility, but secular terms and practises are not the criterion for the assemblies.
We should constantly compare practises and new proposals with the teaching and practises of the New Testament because continuing steadfastly in the Apostle doctrine and holding fast the faithful Word requires that we keep true to the Scriptures.
It is the development from small departure that needs to be anticipated.
Looking now to the Word, is there any teaching that will guide us? We think of John 13, where He who is Teacher and Lord gave us an example when He took the servant’s place and then said, “A servant is not greater than his Lord”. “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” He also spoke of rule and authority exercised among the Gentiles but stated that it was not to be so among His disciples, adding “Whosoever of you will be the chiefest shall be servant of all” Mark 10:44. The epistle to the Hebrews refers to men “who have the rule over you” or “are the guides” or “your leaders
Chapter 13 verses 7, 17, and 24 tell us of their example and service. Verse 7 draws attention to guides who guided by the Word of God, whose lives revealed such faith, that the readers were to imitate them. They had lived with such outcome and outgoing, that their example was to be considered. It seems they had gone to be with the Lord. Heb. 13:17, tells of the demands of their work as they watched not only for dangers from without but also watched the spiritual health and subjection of the saints. Their work and example as leaders was done in the remembrance that they themselves would have to give account to the Great Shepherd.
The Apostle Paul recalls his visit to Jerusalem and refers in Gal. 2:9, to James, Cephas and John, as seeming “to be pillars”.
The Apostle Peter, described by some as first bishop of Rome, made no claim himself like that. In 2 Peter 1:1, he writes as a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ and in 1Peter 5:1, he writes “who am also an elder” or “who am a fellow-elder” according to the Revised Version. When he writes to elders in chapter 5, he says “neither as being lords over God’s heritage” verse 3.
We conclude from these passages that the Lord’s example and teaching is against a man’s claiming to be “the leading brother” in an assembly and against our speaking of anyone by that term.
Hebrews 13 shows that true guides are men of the Book and of practise, who watch and live for the saints. We need men of this spiritual quality more than words can express. The assembles and many believers are crying out for true spiritual elders to comfort, strengthen and guide them in days of intellectual and moral danger, while there is such uncertainty concerning spiritual truth and the will of God. Opinions are stated without sufficient reverent examination of the Word of God. The Hebrews would seem to have been a fairly local company as 10:25.—13:7. and 13:23, indicate, but neither chapter 13 nor Galatians 2 suggests that there was one leading brother. There were guides and pillars.
Peters epistles show how elders are to serve, not as lords but as examples.
It is not intented that there should be ‘the leading brother” in an assembly, but it is proper that there should be brethren who take the lead. It may be that because of the spiritual and moral requirements of elders and the demands of the work, few “desire” this, (1 Tim 3:1). It may also be that not all the overseers of an assembly have the same recognition or share a similar exercise in the work. So, few, or perhaps one, brother, has so much left to him that he becomes regarded as “the leading brother”, something that is not what he wishes.
Again, a general lack of interest, through low spiritual condition, can make it easy for one or few brethren, to dominate or even lord it over all. That this danger can arise is seen in John’s third epistle in Diotrephes whose name means “love to be first” who loved to have the pre-eminence, verse 9, and who acted towards his brethren as if it were his assembly, verse 10, when it is God’s heritage. We submit these thoughts with the object of relating the the teaching of Scripture to the subject of assembly overseership. There is need of guides, men who are to be honoured and obeyed, but they themselves should have moral qualities, spiritual character and be doing the work of guides. It is a wise provision that guidance is not centred in one brother. Let us then continue to follow Scriptural teaching and avoid an indifference to the claims of the Lord in our lives, that almost compels one man to accept more authority than is intended. This is a departure that can only lead to danger.
Towards the end of John 11 we are told that the topical question of the day was whether or not Jesus would come to the feast. His enemies were anxious that He should be killed prior to the feast day and His friends were obviously concerned for His safety. The problem however, was that no one really knew His whereabouts or intentions. In the meantime the “Pharisees had given a commandment that if any man knew where He were, he should shew it ...”
In our day Christ has gone physically from the world and the majority of people have no idea where He is, nor know the truth of His resurrection and ascension. It is the Christian’s responsibility to tell the world not only what Christ has done but where he is now. The central phrase of verse 57 would point this out clearly, as follows :
A COMMANDMENT: for the Christian this command comes not from the Pharisees but from God Himself: A command is authoritative and must be obeyed. Our lives are surrounded by commands of men and also, of course, those from God. The greatest commandment is to acknowledge that God is One and to love him wholeheartedly. The new commandment is that we should love one another (John 13). Here in John 11 is yet another command that we do well to note and perform—that we should show by our lives and preaching where Christ is now—resurrected, glorified, in heaven. Indeed we have no option. Christianity means telling the world of the power of the risen Saviour.
IF ANY MAN KNEW WHERE HE WERE: Some world-wise claim He is dead and reject the truth of resurrection, but the Christian has the answer in that he knows where Christ is to be found.
Firstly, He is in heaven itself and appears there as Great High Priest for us. The disciples watched as He ascended up into heaven and later He was observed there by both Paul and John. The conviction of New Testament teaching is that He is no longer on the cross nor in the grave but alive, in heaven, for evermore. What a blessed and happy thought (to say nothing of its truth) that the Man of Calvary is glorified at God’s right hand!
Secondly, the risen Lord is in the midst of His gathered people. The reality of the resurrection came home forcibly to His disciples when He appeared in their midst in the upper room where they were assembled. So today, “where two or three are gathered together in My Name there am I in the midst of them” is a real and encouraging experience. Something we can tell to the world is that Christ is alive and is to be found in the midst of His saints.
Thirdly, Christ is in each one of us, as the hymn-writer said, “You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart.” We therefore as believers do know, doctrinally and experimentally, where He is and it is our responsibility to show it to the world around us.
HE SHOULD SHOW IT: The question is how can we show where He is and happily there are various ways of doing just this.
by our preaching—the early preachers put great emphasis on the resurrection and so ought we today. “God has made this same Jesus Lord and Christ.” A gospel which omits to speak of the risen Lord fails to indicate the power available to live for God in this present world.
by our devotion—our love for the Lord will be evidence that He is alive and this devotion can be seen in our keeping of His words “If ye love me keep my commandments.”
by our lives—as those born from above we ought to be living with our affections on things above and be constantly looking off unto Jesus. Our lives ought to be controlled and ruled by the same power that raised Christ from the dead. Do our lives show the power of the risen Lord?
Our great privilege it that while the world is in ignorance of His whereabouts, we do know where He is and our responsibility is to show it and tell it forth on every possible occasion. “a commandment that if any man knew where He were He should shew it ...”