ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY BIBLE CLASS
by J. Riddle
TRAITS OF THE TRIBES
by I. McKee
by J.A. Davidson
COMFORT FOR CHRISTIANS IN A CHANGING WORLD
by R. Reynolds
NOTES ON THE PRISON EPISTLES
by A. Summers
by I. Steele
POTS, PITCHERS AND WATERPOTS
by D. O’Hare
Assembly Testimony Bible Class
by J. Riddle (England)
THE FIRST BOOK OF PSALMS
No.20: PSALM 15, Part 2
Last time, we introduced this Psalm, and noted that there are three sections to it:
- The Holiness of God’s Presence, v.1
- The Fitness Needed for God’s Presence, vv.2-5a
- The Stability of the Man Who Is Fit for God’s Presence, v.5b.
We looked at the first section, and now we will consider the remaining two.
THE FITNESS NEEDED FOR GOD’S PRESENCE – vv.2-5a
The man who is fit for the presence of God must be characterised by the following. He must be:
- upright in his personal life, v.2
- uncritical in relation to others, v.3
- uncompromising with evil men, v.4
- undeterred in loyalty to God, v.4
- unblameable in financial matters, v.5a.
He Must Be Upright in His Personal Life – v.2
The first thing to notice is the personal integrity of the man who is fit for the presence of God. Three requirements for dwelling in the presence of God are given here, and they cover walk, work and words:
“He that walketh uprightly”. The word “walk” in Scripture is used to describe life generally. When the Bible says that “Enoch walked with God” Gen.5.22, it means that Enoch’s whole life was subject to God’s will. When the Bible asks, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” Amos 3.3, it means two lives in harmony. The Epistle to the Ephesians emphasises the need to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” 4.1; to “walk in love” 5.2; to “walk circumspectly” 5.15. Psalm 1 commends the man that “walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly” v.1.
The word “uprightly” is elsewhere translated “perfect”, e.g. “Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations” Gen.6.9, and is used to describe God Himself: “As for God, His way is perfect” Ps.18.30. “He that walketh uprightly” describes a standard of behaviour that reflects the very character of God Himself. It can only be achieved with God’s help, as Psalm 18 shows: “It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect” v.32.
“And that worketh righteousness”. The R.S.V. translates: “and does what is right”. As you can see, this verse emphasises practical righteousness rather than positional righteousness. Timothy was urged to “follow after righteousness” 1Tim.6.11. The New Testament argues powerfully that if new life in Christ exists at all, it will be displayed by righteous living: “If ye know that He is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him … he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous … whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God” 1Jn.2.29; 3.7-10.
“And speaketh the truth in (‘from’ J.N.D.) his heart”. A vast amount is said in Scripture about the need for sincerity of speech. The third requirement of v.2 recalls the fearful situation in Psalm 12: “They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak” v.2. We must beware of mere lip-service. David prayed: “Give ear unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips” Ps.17.1. The Lord Jesus cited Isa.29.13 in saying, “This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoureth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me” Matt.15.8.
He Must Be Uncritical in Relation to Others – v.3
Three things are written concerning this aspect of his character:
“He that backbiteth not with his tongue”. Solomon describes a variety of characters in the book of Proverbs, including the talebearer: “The words of the talebearer are as wounds (‘dainty morsels’ J.N.D.) … Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out; so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth … a whisperer separateth chief friends” Prov.26.20,22; 16.28. Malachi tells us that “they which feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it” Mal.3.16. It would be nice to think that as the same Lord listens to our speech, He finds people who speak “the truth in love” and whose conversation is “good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” Eph.4.15,29.
“Nor doeth evil to his neighbour”. “Neighbour” is rendered “companion” in J.N.D. and “friend” in R.S.V. The alternative renderings make us think particularly of relationships between believers here, but we must not forget our relationships with the world at large. The Lord Jesus demonstrated the identity of our “neighbour” in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Do remember Rom.13.10, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law”.
But what about our fellow-Christians? The Lord Jesus taught: “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another” Jn.13.35. Now listen to a New Testament exposition of Ps.15.3: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” Eph.4.31,32.
“Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour”. This could mean “either ‘casts a slur’ or ‘picks up something discreditable’, in the sense of raking it up unnecessarily” (D. Kidner). A.G. Clarke has the following: “does not make the faults and failings of others an object of ridicule and sarcasm”. J.M. Flanigan puts it like this: “neither will he take up or entertain slander which is told him about his neighbour. He will neither give nor take stories about others which would do harm or cause pain to a neighbour. He will not readily believe ill reports, nor trade in them”. We tend to be quite expert at discrediting one another. Paul taught that “if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” Gal.6.1. But some people are quite adept at magnifying the slightest flaw.
He Must Be Uncompromising with Evil Men – v.4
“In whose eyes a vile (‘depraved’ J.N.D.) person is contemned (‘despised’ R.S.V.); but he honoureth them that fear the LORD“. The two sides are expressed in the New Testament as follows: “Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good” Rom.12.9; “[Love] rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth” 1Cor.13.6.
The first statement in this verse sets out the negative side of separation, and Ephesians chapter 5 gives a relevant commentary: “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God … Be not ye therefore partakers with them … have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” Eph.5.5,7,11. The second statement in this verse (v.4) sets out the positive side of separation: “he honoureth them that fear the LORD”. What do you understand by the expression, “the fear of the LORD”? Give it some Biblically-inspired thought.
He Must Be Undeterred in Loyalty to God – v.4
“He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not” or “Who, if he have sworn to his own hurt, changeth it not” J.N.D. This is to be understood in the sense of, “I will pay my vows unto the LORD” Ps.116.14. Does this remind you of Peter? If so, don’t forget how heartily we sometimes sing, “O Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end …”. Even when the way gets difficult? Compare Eccl.5.2-6, “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God … When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for He hath no pleasure in fools: Pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, Than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel (the priest), that it was an error”.
He Must Be Unblameable in Financial Matters – v.5a
The final verse of this Psalm reminds us that a correct attitude to money is essential if we are to enjoy the presence of God. “He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent”. The reference to usury (money-lending) and bribes (A.V. “reward”) spotlights two of the commonest and worst offences against justice in the Middle East. (Note Deut.23.19,20 here: “Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury”). When the question is asked, “Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire?” the answer is given, “He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes” Isa.33.14,15. We must be careful, in a corrupt world, to avoid financial gain from dubious sources.
This reminds us of the need for a proper attitude to materialism. See 1Tim.6.9-11, “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness”.
THE STABILITY OF THE MAN WHO IS FIT FOR GOD’S PRESENCE – v.5b
“He that doeth these things shall never be moved”. Do notice that it is “he that doeth these things”. That’s just the message of James: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves … but whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” Jms.1.22-25.
“He that doeth these things” will be a man who is completely dedicated to God: his feet: “he that walketh uprightly” v.2; his hands: “and worketh righteousness” v.2; his heart: “and speaketh the truth in his heart” v.2; his tongue: “backbiteth not with his tongue” v.3; his eyes: “in whose eyes a vile person is contemned” v.4; his will: “sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not” v.4; his possessions: “putteth not out his money to usury” v.5.
Is that YOU? Or, more to the point: Is that ME?
To be continued (D.V.)
Traits of the Tribes
by Ian McKee, N. Ireland
LEVI – IN THE WILDERNESS (CONTINUED)
Gifts were given to the Levites to assist in the service of the tabernacle, Numbers chapter 7. A solemn section follows, showing that Levites must be cleansed, offered, separated and given to their privileged service, Num.8.5-26. This ends with, “… the Levites: from twenty and five years old and upward they shall go in to wait upon the service of the tabernacle of the congregation: and from the age of fifty years they shall cease waiting upon the service thereof, and shall serve no more” Num.8.24,25. Evidently there was a five-year apprenticeship before commencing full Levitical service at thirty years of age, see Num.4.3,23,30. Are we equipping younger believers for future service? The years of optimum service are limited, hence the imperative to develop a competent succeeding generation.
In spite of their great privileges there was rebellion by some Levites. Korah, great-grandson of Levi and cousin of Aaron and Moses, was a discontented Levite. He wanted elevation into the priesthood, which was never God’s intention for him, Leviticus chapter 8. There is nothing to be gained, but everything to be lost, by envying the service God has given to another. “Seemeth it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself to do the service of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them? And He hath brought thee near to Him, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee: and seek ye the priesthood also?” Num.16.9,10. There is ever a sad outcome when souring discontent seeps into the soul of any believer. Korah, by rebellion, earned the apostate’s epitaph, “Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core (Korah)” Jude 11.
God then authenticated and endorsed the Aaronic priesthood, “… thou shalt write Aaron’s name upon the rod of Levi … and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds” Num.17.3,8. Numbers chapter 18 then reiterates and confirms Aaron and his priestly family in their distinctive privileges and responsibilities. “And thy brethren also of the tribe of Levi, the tribe of thy father, bring thou with thee, that they may be joined unto thee, and minister unto thee: but thou and thy sons with thee shall minister before the tabernacle of witness … they are given as a gift for the LORD …” Num.18.2-6.
Material support is provided to enable their time to be given to Levitical service: “… And behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation” Num.18.20,21. The Levites receive a tenth of the land’s production and in turn give a tenth of what they receive, the very best, as a heave offering to the Lord. Service for God should be accompanied by appreciation and thankfulness.
Another episode of serious failure in the tribe of Levi happened when “Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD” Lev.10.1,2. These disobedient Levites had an ‘anything will do for God’ attitude. They found to their cost that, to quote the late Dick Draper (Skibbereen), ‘while God will often bear with ignorance, He will never tolerate arrogance’. It cost much for the Aaronic family to side with God that day against their erring brethren, but it would have cost them more had they sided with them against God! Nadab and Abihu exhibited the ‘act on impulse, never mind the consequences’ attitude characteristic of their tribal head.
The tribe increased in size from twenty-two thousand to twenty-three thousand by the last census taken before entering Canaan, Num.26.62. However, Nadab and Abihu “had no children” Num.3.4. Rebellion ended their service and potential.
While Levi was a priestly tribe, Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest is the only individual named among those who went to war with the Midianites, Num.31.1-6. How appropriate that the man with the javelin who delivered Israel from Balaam’s guile, Num.25.7,8, was present when Balaam was slain, Num.31.7.
The tribe of Levi was not given distinct tribal territory, but forty-eight cities, of which six were designated “cities of refuge” to which a manslayer may flee to escape the avenger of blood, Num.35.10-34; Josh.20.1-9; 21.1-45. However, this is a further outworking of Jacob’s prophecy, “I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel” Gen.49.7. This tribe descended from Levi, who was guilty of premeditated murder, Gen.34.25,26, is entrusted to administer justice in relation to unpremeditated and accidental killings. Amazing grace?
“Priests the Levites” are identified as the appeal court for civil authority with their sentence being binding, and disobedience incurring the death sentence, Deut.17.8-13. When kings are enthroned, “he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites” Deut.17.18. They are also responsible to investigate and adjudicate in relation to unexplained violent deaths. The “priests the sons of Levi” have authority to conduct inquests with power to summon attendance, Deut.21.1-9. They also have power of direction in relation to outbreaks of leprosy, Deut.24.8. They are therefore to be discerning Levites.
Perhaps the greatest honour given to this tribe is that “… the LORD separated the tribe of Levi, to bear the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister unto Him, and to bless in His name, unto this day. Wherefore Levi hath no part nor inheritance with his brethren; the LORD is his inheritance, according as the LORD thy God promised him” Deut.10.8,9. What was true of the tribe was also applied to each individual member, Deut.12.12,18. They are to be dignified Levites: “And if a Levite come … he shall minister in the name of the LORD his God, as all his brethren the Levites do, which stand there before the LORD” Deut.18.6,7.
They are also to be dependent Levites. All other tribes are commanded, “Take heed to thyself that thou forsake not the Levite as long as thou livest upon the earth” Deut.12.19; and “the Levite that is within thy gates; thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no part nor inheritance with thee …” Deut.14.27-29. The Levites are to be similarly included in the Feasts of Weeks, Deut.16.11; Tabernacles, Deut.16.14; and Firstfruits, Deut.26.11. While the tribes of Simeon and Levi were separated in Israel, yet these two tribes (with Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin) stand on verdant Mount Gerizim to hear the blessings of the Law, Deut.27.9-12. Interesting that it is the Levites alone who pronounce the cursings of the Law, Deut.27.14-26. Those with greatest privilege have most reason to be aware of the consequence of disobedience.
When Moses reached his 120th birthday he “… wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests the sons of Levi, which bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and unto all the elders of Israel” Deut.31.9. They were to retain and fully communicate the text to the people every seven years. When Moses had completed the writing of the book he “… commanded the Levites … saying, ‘Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee’” Deut.31.25,26.
LEVI – MOSES’ PROPHETIC BLESSING
The blessings of Moses in Deuteronomy chapter 33 contain no censure; but encourage the tribes to possess the land and reach their potential. While Simeon was not mentioned by Moses, Levi receives the longest benediction.
“And of Levi he said, ‘Let thy Thummim and thy Urim be with thy holy one, Whom thou didst prove at Massah (probation), And with whom thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah (strife)’” Deut.33.8. The Urim and the Thummim (lights and perfections) were placed within the breastplate of judgment worn by Israel’s high priest, Ex.28.30; Lev.8.8. They were used to determine God’s will in relation to critical matters on which Scripture is silent, Num.27.21; 1Sam.28:6; Ezra 2.63. They may enable determination of the mind of God by affirmative or negative responses to specific questions of concern. They were located near to the high priest’s heart and the precious gemstones on the breastplate engraved with the tribal names. The “holy one” suggests that a corresponding sense of intense piety and dependence was needed. For believers now, Scripture is our resource for guidance, with our understanding aided by the indwelling Holy Spirit. It would be incongruous for anyone to seek the will of God on any specific issue when disobedient to God’s Word. The will of God can never be contrary to Scripture.
The reference to Massah and Meribah is interesting as the tribe of Levi is not mentioned at Ex.17.1-7 and Num.20.1-13. These incidents, which occurred at the commencement and the end of the wilderness journey, each involved complaining, tempting and striving about lack of water. While Moses and Aaron were of the tribe of Levi and stood for God in these severe tests, it seems that Levi the tribe, while equally affected by the conditions, was not party to the dissension. Privilege in priesthood does not absolve from trouble, and testing is necessary in the purpose of God. Those raised by God to give teaching and direction must first be proven.
But there is absolutely no doubt as to the positive response of Levi following the making of the golden calf, Ex.32.25-29. Levi the tribe rose above natural relationships to take a costly stand for God, “Who said unto his father and to his mother, ‘I have not seen him;’ Neither did he acknowledge his brethren, Nor knew his own children; For they have observed Thy word, And kept Thy covenant” Deut.33.9. God’s Word and covenant were paramount for Levi, eclipsing the claims of flesh and blood.
The Divine intention for Levi is, “They shall teach Jacob Thy judgments, And Israel Thy law; They shall put incense before Thee, And whole burnt sacrifice upon Thine altar” Deut.33.10. Intelligent understanding and teaching of the Word of God are essential if people are to appreciate ‘why we do what we do’. This is vital today. We must understand and apply the teaching of Scripture, otherwise we become unthinking traditionalists. The teaching responsibility of Levi is to ensure that every successive generation is taught faithfully and comprehensively. Even today, there are no substitutes for contextual exposition of the Bible.
Moses concludes his blessing of Levi with, “Bless, LORD, his substance, And accept the work of his hands. Smite through the loins of them that rise against him, And of them that hate him, that they rise not again” Deut.33.11. His desire is that those engaged in Levitical service will be empowered to prosper and that their enemies will be destroyed. Our service is also opposed, with mighty enemies identified in Eph.6.12!
To be continued (D.V.)
by J. A. Davidson (N. Ireland)
THE WORD OR THE WORLD?
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” Rom.12.2.
“Have you people changed your beliefs?” This was the question asked by a religious man who had lived opposite the Gospel Hall for a period of years and had observed the people coming and going. Even he was surprised at the evidence of increased worldliness among assembly believers.
The subject of the Epistle of Romans deals with the righteousness of God manifest in the gospel. After the Doctrinal chapters, in chapter 12, the apostle deals with this subject as Displayed and Demonstrated in the life of the believer. That this is dealt with in an assembly context is seen by the reference to the use of gifts beginning in v.6. Our response to the Demands of the gospel must be that we give our bodies (the only part of our being that awaits redemption, Rom.8.23) to God. In doing this, we are instructed to “be not conformed to this world”.
“This world (age)”, is the age of spiritual darkness and evil, under the control of the god of this world, 2Cor.4.4. Christ “gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world” Gal.1.4. The Lord’s teaching indicated conflict, not compromise, with the world. Demas “loved this present world” 2Tim.4.10. The threefold enemy consisting of the world, the flesh and the devil is making an all-out attack upon assembly testimony in these last days. This “world” is the aggregate of mankind estranged from God, living for self and deceived by Satan. The enemy cannot deprive us of our standing in “the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ” Rom.3.22. However, worldliness can hinder the way in which this internal change of eternal life is manifest in our manner of daily living.
The Fashion of the World
The world wishes to change our dress according to the fashions of society. The models of fashion present women who show no modesty and reveal by the raised hemline and lowered neckline what should not be seen. Casual wear for men which would not be appropriate in professional or business meetings is introduced to assembly gatherings, where dignity and reverence would be expected in the Lord’s presence. Those who refuse this trend are regarded as dull and dated while those who follow it are “cool” and conform to the modern “life-style”.
Modern means of communication and the social media bring easy access for the world into our homes. The opportunity for quiet meditation upon the Word of God and preparation for assembly meetings is displaced by the waste of many hours every week occupied with the world fed into our minds from cyberspace. Even assembly believers become acquainted with the names of film stars, sport icons and the world of pleasure.
The materialism of the world invites us to regard possessions as the worldling does. What previous generations of assembly believers regarded as unnecessary luxuries are now seen as essential “must haves”. Finance is not just used to meet our need and to give to others more needy, but to gratify the greed of self-indulgence. Recreation, social events and festive occasions take priority over eternal issues and may even result in rescheduling or cancelling some of the regular meetings.
This Present Evil World
The “wisdom” of this world challenges our thinking. “Evolution”, “gay rights”, “gender equality” and “sexual liberation” are the pernicious abominations of this age. There are many changes in the thinking of the world but at heart there is the hatred of God and His Word. They charge God Himself with sexual discrimination, thus attacking the Father/Son relationship which the Bible teaches. The Word of God is the final authority in the assembly of God’s people. The arrogant replacement of Biblical principles with the base notions of men comes from the rotten atmosphere of this world as we approach the end of the age.
More dangerous for the assembly is the misapplication of Scripture by some claiming to be spiritual leaders who relegate scriptural truths to a growing list of “inconsequentials” and “no-go areas” in the Bible. This will have solemn consequences in the local assemblies, in the heavenlies and at the Judgment Seat. The thinking behind these “inconsequentials”, we are informed, is to make people who may come to the meetings feel more “comfortable” and the church more “popular”. This reasoning considers some assembly truths as irrelevant and unimportant and thus in keeping with standards acceptable in the religious world. The objection raised is, where is the Scripture against it? The real question is, where do these things come from?
BE NOT CONFORMED TO THIS WORLD
This is the answer of the Word of God. It has been suggested that Rom.12.2 could be paraphrased as, “be not pressed into the mould of this age”. This means: do not fashion ourselves, do not be squeezed into the pattern and ways of the world. We cannot serve God with “this world” as our model.
The Transformed Way of Thinking
“But be ye transformed (present, passive, continuous tense: continue to let yourselves be transformed, metamorphosed) by the renewing of your mind”. Some object by telling us that it is the inward, not the outward, that matters. They say, as long as we are right at heart with the Lord that it does not matter about outward appearance. There is some truth in this because outward, destructive, casualness manifests an attitude of mind. This attitude indicates both an inward problem with the affections (heart) and the thinking of the “mind” (head). Right acting flows from right thinking and right thinking is determined by the knowledge of “that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God”. The “transformed, renewed mind”, does not think as the “world” thinks and is not guided by the circumstances, culture or conduct of society.
The Will of God
Our “reasonable service” v.1, in response to the blessings of the gospel, will not issue from following the ways of “this world” but by knowledge of God’s “will”. Obedience intelligently rendered by faith in the Word of God, is that which will guide us in the path of service, not just to avoid that which is sinful but away from that which is not helpful.
Those who pattern themselves according to “this world” read of it, fashion themselves after it and follow its trends. Believers have a different way of thinking. They read the Word of God, they follow its teaching and find the priority of the will of God for godly, separated, profitable and acceptable service.
- This world is a wilderness wide;
- I have nothing to seek or to choose,
- I’ve no thought in the waste to abide,
- I’ve nought to regret or to lose.
- ‘Tis the treasure I’ve found in His love
- That has made me a pilgrim below;
- And ‘tis there when I reach Him above
- As I’m known, all His fulness I’ll know.
(John Nelson Darby 1800-1882).
To be continued (D.V.)
Comfort for Christians in a Changing World
by Roy Reynolds (N. Ireland)
What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. John 13.7
Life is full of unanswered questions: “Why me?”; “Why my family?”; “Why now?”
Life can sometimes be a mass of tangled threads, colourful, fascinating; but there seems to be no meaning or pattern to them. We cannot understand how this trial at this time can be of any benefit to me spiritually. Why have I suddenly lost my health when I was so busy for God? A loved one has fallen ill and needs my constant attention; surely God has made a mistake; I cannot even attend the gatherings of the Lord’s people now.
John might well have thought similarly when he was commissioned to care for the Lord’s mother by the Saviour Himself when He was upon the cross. However, John knew too much about the caring, loving heart of Christ for such thoughts to arise, “and from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” Jn.19.27. One has said, “In acceptance of His will, there is great peace.”
- I cannot see the end,
- The hidden meaning of each trial sent,
- The pattern into which each tangled thread is bent;
- I cannot see the end; but I can trust,
- And in His changeless love I am content.
Until the day break, and the shadows flee away. Song of Solomon 2.17
For the unsaved the dark night is coming; for us who are saved, this is the night and we wait for the Bright and Morning Star, the dawning of the blessed Maranatha morning; the coming, tearless day. Of that glorious place to which we are hastening, the Scriptures say, “There shall be no night there” Rev.21.25; 22.5.
That morning will bring unmingled joy, unending bliss and with unsinning hearts and undimmed vision we will gaze upon and adore the matchless Lover of our souls.
The sorrows of this little while and the trials that oft crushed our heart will end forever. The tears that flowed so freely will be dried instantaneously and in the unsullied purity of heaven we shall join in the everlasting anthems of praise. Never again will the dark spectre of death cloud our skies and the inhabitants of that celestial abode will never again say, “I am sick.” Home, home is nearing, it’s coming into view.
- Still upward till the day shall break
- And shadows all have flown;
- Still upward till in heaven you wake
- And stand before the throne.
NOTES ON THE PRISON EPISTLES
By Alan Summers (Scotland)
Paper 4 – PHILIPPIANS CHAPTERS 3 AND 4
PHILIPPIANS CHAPTER 3
Paul’s Past – vv.1-9
It appears from Paul’s language, v.1 “Finally”, that he intended to end the epistle at this point, but as he writes about the dangers of Jewish teachers, he is so moved that he expands the letter.
He had once believed that keeping the Law was the means of salvation. He had persecuted the early Christians because they rejected this. His conversion on the Damascus Road led to a complete change of mind. As a result his former colleagues became his sworn enemies. Scripture records several attempts by the Jewish leaders to kill him. His description of them is sharp and critical: “dogs”, “evil workers”. While we might struggle to understand why a Christian should speak so about others, it must be remembered that for Paul they represented the “enemies of the cross” v.18. He knew they would kill him if they could and that their goal was to destroy the churches he had established.
So as to explain why these teachers were wrong and should be opposed, Paul sets out the national and religious qualities in which he had once trusted, vv.4-6. He then contrasts these with the righteousness that God gives the believer through faith, v.9. He does not deny that man needs to be righteous to enter heaven. He rejects the idea however that righteousness is to be found in our deeds. Salvation depends on God attributing His righteousness to us so that our entry into heaven depends on Him and not us.
Paul uses a spiritual balance sheet to describe this state of affairs, v.7. All his personal attainments are put in the debit column, “loss”, and all the benefits he has through Christ are put in the credit column, “gain” v.8. He concludes that the benefits of knowing Christ far exceed the benefits of practising the Law and trying to be externally righteous.
Paul’s Present – vv.10-16
In this section Paul explains the impact of the death and resurrection of Christ. He shows that believers do not need to wait until their physical resurrection to experience God’s resurrection power. Although the sufferings, death and resurrection of Christ are in the past and were unique to Christ, Paul yearns to know in his own life some of what Christ went through. Thus while he cannot go through Christ’s sufferings, he can suffer for Christ. He cannot die Christ’s death but he can reproduce features of that death, e.g. its selflessness, in his own life. He will never be resurrected like Christ but he can experience the power of God in other ways. Finally he anticipates the day when believers will be raised from the grave and longs that in the here and now he may experience that transforming power.
“Know Him” – how can a Christian know the Lord Jesus when he has never met Him? While the Lord was on earth His disciples knew Him personally. They watched Him and listened to Him and developed a personal relationship with Him. Paul makes it clear that it is still possible for the believer to know Christ. The knowledge is built up from a number of sources. We can know Him through reading and hearing about Him; we can also get to know Him through prayer and communion. Because He is a Divine Person He is not constrained by His physical absence from earth. He can still communicate with us and we can be conscious of His presence and will. So the physical absence of Christ does not prevent us developing a personal knowledge of Him.
“The power of His resurrection” – what kind of power is this? It is plainly not physical power. Human power can restart the heart and (in that sense) bring back people from the dead, but God’s power is far beyond that. This power refers to God’s supernatural power to accomplish things that are beyond human ability. In particular it refers to God’s power to overcome obstacles (such as death) that are insuperable to humans.
“Fellowship of His sufferings” – we plainly did not suffer on the cross with Christ. Nor could we contribute anything to the suffering of Christ for sin. Nevertheless, when we suffer as Christians we suffer for many of the reasons He suffered. He suffered because of His commitment to God and His love for the truth. So too should we. Since He identifies so closely with His people, He suffers with us. In this sense we have fellowship in His sufferings.
“Conformity to His death” – this does not mean that we wish to be crucified or lashed. Conformity means conformity of purpose and attitude. In our life the features of Christ’s death should be apparent. We should “die” to our personal ambitions and desires. We should be conformed to what His death stands for – obedience to God and devotion to the interests of others.
“Attain unto the resurrection” – this does not teach that the resurrection of the saint from the dead depends on how good a Christian he has been. All Christians will be raised irrespective of how good or bad they have been. His point is that we should seek to live out in the present the qualities that we will achieve when we are resurrected.
“Apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ” – Paul had gone to Damascus to apprehend believers. Instead God apprehended him. Here he expresses his desire to seize or grasp all that God had in mind for him when he was “arrested” on the Damascus Road.
Paul’s Future – vv.17-21
After spelling out the differences between Christianity and the Law, Paul asks the Philippians to trust him. If they followed these teachers they would be rejecting him. So he asks them to choose. He also points out that to follow them is to turn their back on the cross and the death of Christ. To choose these teachers was to choose men who were bound for judgment. Although they were not necessarily immoral, the type of fleshly desires they pursued were just as bad. They loved earthly achievement and external ritual. This revealed that their desires were fleshly and not spiritual.
Paul then points on to the future for the believer. He has been discussing the power of the resurrection and its implications for the believer; now he anticipates the day when resurrection (or rapture) would actually occur and each believer is given a body like Christ’s. Judaism was incapable of offering such a hope.
PHILIPPIANS CHAPTER 4
Peace in the Assembly – vv.1-4
The opening verses of this chapter reveal that two sisters in the assembly were at odds with one another. Since Paul had not been in Philippi for some time his knowledge of their dispute must have reached his ears from someone else, possibly Epaphroditus. That Paul refers to their dispute in an open letter indicates that it was a serious fall out and was known to the church. It is unlikely that Paul would have revealed a minor dispute in a public letter. It is reasonable to assume that Paul foresaw that this part of the letter would cause embarrassment to these sisters. Evidently, however, their discomfort was not a sufficient reason to remain silent. Sometimes the fear of causing offence can prevent good men from taking action that is necessary to protect the wider interests of the assembly.
If Paul knew what they had fallen out about, he does not say so. It may be that no-one really knew. Oftentimes disputes are an accumulation of grudges and misunderstandings. Whatever the position, Paul does not take sides. He simply implores them both to be “of the same mind in the Lord”. This implies that submitting to the Lord Jesus was essential if the dispute was to be resolved. Chapter 2 emphasises that humility and a willingness to place other peoples’ interests first is a vital ingredient of unity. Chapter 3 emphasises that God is able to give the power to overcome great difficulty. No one should underestimate how hard it is for people to “climb down”.
Some have thought that the general emphasis on unity in the letter and this specific dispute implies that the spiritual state of the church at Philippi was so bad that the assembly needed “salvation”. This is too gloomy a view of matters. Paul does not say that the church was divided. This letter is in very sharp contrast to the letter to the church at Corinth, where division was evident. Paul’s teaching about unity was probably designed to prevent rather than resolve assembly division.
This section is addressed to the Philippians as a whole and the two women personally. The reference to the “true yokefellow” is probably to the bearer of the letter, Epaphroditus, who, Paul hopes, will be able to assist in resolving the schism. “Those women” is a reference to Euodias and Syntyche. Paul’s warm commendation of the women demonstrates that good people can fall out. Discord is not confined to worldly or carnal Christians.
Peace in the Life – vv.5-9
The apostle moves to his conclusion with a series of short admonitions. They all relate to one of the letter’s themes namely the “mind” or attitude we have towards life. The apostle reminds them that they ought to be joyful. In the world rejoicing usually accompanies material blessing. The Christian’s joy derives from spiritual blessing. The world’s rejoicing tends to be short-lived. The Christian ought to be joyful at all times. He ought to be buoyed in his spirit by his spiritual blessings. This does not mean that we find suffering a pleasant thing. We are not expected to laugh at funerals, but we can have a resilient “optimism” whatever life may bring. Philippi had witnessed a singular example of this spirit some years before. When Paul and Silas had been beaten and imprisoned they were overheard singing God’s praises in the prison at Philippi at midnight, Acts 16.25. For the Christian there is always a reason to be thankful. In this letter Paul mentions “joy” and “rejoicing” frequently. Among the things that gave him joy was the knowledge that the gospel was being preached even by rivals, 1.18, and that the assembly cared for him. 4.10.
We should be known for our “moderation”. This word has a few shades of meaning including gentleness, kindness and tolerance. We should be known for our tranquillity of spirit. Through prayer we can unburden ourselves to God and that in turn gives us peace. We ought to be occupied with things which produce Christlikeness. It is sometimes said “we are what we eat”, but Philippians says “we are what we think”. Sometimes we can become preoccupied with the difficulties of life and fail to rest in God’s goodness and care for us. Paul suggests that if we depend on God in prayer the restlessness can be exchanged for God’s inner peace. He reminds the Philippians that if we spend our time thinking about things that are upsetting or harmful, our spiritual equilibrium will be disturbed. What we think about is to a great degree a matter of choice. He commends the value of being absorbed with that which is for our spiritual blessing.
Peace in the Prison – vv.10-19
The Philippians had a commendable concern for Paul. They realised that he needed their practical support so they sent one of their number to visit him in the prison in Rome with a gift. How much was given is not specified. Paul obviously appreciated their gift but is keen to stress that he was not dependent on the gift. He had been through thick and thin during his service for God and had come to appreciate that he could trust in God to meet his needs. He compares their gift to one of the sweet savour sacrifices offered under the Law. Although God did not need the offering it nevertheless was sweet to Him. Likewise their gift was a sacrifice that both God and Paul could appreciate.
Peace in the Soul – vv.21-23
The epistle ends with Paul’s customary ascription of praise to God, sometimes called the doxology. His farewell indicates two things. First, that although he is in prison he has Christian company, and second, that there were Christians in “Caesar’s household”. This implies that there were Christians in the staff or military guard attached to the Imperial palace. Presumably Paul had spoken to them while in imprisonment and they had been saved. It is wonderful to think that the gospel had triumphed even through Paul’s imprisonment.
To be continued, (D.V.)
by Ian Steele (Scotland)
Paul expands upon the glories of Christ. He is “the image of the invisible God”. God is a spirit and therefore invisible. Jn.1.18 tells us that “no man hath seen God at any time”. He is God, “dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see” 1Tim.6.16. But we do read that God has been seen at various times and to a limited degree. For example, there are a number of Theophanies (appearances of God) in the Old Testament such as the appearance to Abraham in Genesis chapter 18, to Moses in Exodus chapter 34 and to Gideon in Judges chapter 6. So how do we reconcile the statements that God cannot be seen with these and other examples? The answer is found here, in Col.1.15: “Who is the image (eikon) of the invisible God”. Christ is and always has been and always will be “the visible representation and manifestation of all that God is” according to W.E. Vine. Paul further underlines this in 2Cor.4.4: “lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them”. John also emphasises this in Jn.1.18: “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him”. The Lord stated this great truth to Philip in Jn.14.9: “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father”.
It is worth noting that man, in Adam, was created in the image of God for Gen.1.27 says, “So God created man in His own image”, and in 1Cor.11.7 we read, of man, that “he is the image and glory of God”. However, there are vital distinctions between the significance of the word “image” when used of Adam and when used of Christ: firstly, man was never the image of God in the fullest sense that the Lord Jesus is. For example, it could never be said of Adam that he was “the image of the invisible God”. This term refers uniquely to Him. Secondly, Adam was created in the image of God, while the Lord Jesus was uncreated. Thirdly, that image in Adam was marred at the Fall, while there is no possibility of any such thing happening to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then again Paul speaks of the new man in Col.3.10 as being “renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him”. Ultimately the purpose of God will be realised in the saints, “for whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son” Rom.8.29. Thus, as W.E. Vine says, “We in our glorified state will not only resemble Christ but represent Him perfectly and eternally”. The hymn aptly records:
- True image of the Infinite,
- Whose essence is concealed;
- Brightness of uncreated light,
- The heart of God revealed.
Firstborn (prototokos) of all creation
The word means first in relation to rank and position and does not imply first in relation to time. For example Ex.4.22 says, “Israel is My son, even My firstborn”. Clearly Israel was not the first nation to exist but God was emphasising His choice of them for Himself and the importance of their position before Him. Here it expresses Christ’s priority to and pre-eminence over all that has been created (W.E. Vine). Note it is because He is the image of the invisible God that He is the Firstborn.
Note again the reference in v.18, “The firstborn from the dead”, repeated in Rev.1.5: “The faithful witness, and the first-begotten [from among, Newberry margin] the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth”. “First-begotten” here is the same word as “firstborn” in Col.1.18. Clearly Christ was not the first chronologically to be raised from the dead but He is the pre-eminent one in resurrection and as such is the prototype of the new race.
In Rom.8.29 Paul says, “that He might be the firstborn among many brethren”. Christ is supreme and all others will derive their resemblance and representation from His glorious Person. The writer to the Hebrews projects this to the day of His manifested glory: “when He bringeth in the first-begotten into the world, He saith, And let all the angels of God worship Him” Heb.1.6. Thus the Lord Jesus will have the first place and as His rank demands He will be the supreme object of worship as He returns in triumph to this world that rejected Him.
V.16 is all encompassing in relation to all created things. They were created “in Him”, emphasising source and origin. They were created “through Him”, that is through His agency and power. They were created “for Him”, indicating the goal and purpose of His creative work. Note the scope embraced is heaven and earth, seen or unseen, angelic or human authorities; all are included.
V.17 emphasises Christ’s pre-existence: He is before all things, and also the dependence of all created things on Him, for “by Him all things consist”, or hold together. That includes individual items: elements and atoms and also bodies in relation to each other, upheld by the laws that govern the universe around us.
“He is the head of the body, the church” v.18. This is something that is true of Him in His resurrected and ascended glory. The Church which is His body was established in Acts chapter 2 and the truth of the Head in heaven linked to the body on earth was manifested to Paul in Acts chapter 9 during his conversion. The doctrine of headship is detailed in the teaching of Ephesians and Colossians. Note that headship is the caring and affectionate relationship of Christ with His Church that supplies exactly what is needed. Lordship underlines His authority and control and requires our submission. As the Head He gives direction and intelligence and makes provision as in Eph.4.15,16. The picture is of the body as a living organism vitally linked to the head. Paul tells us at the end of v.18 that the objective of God is the pre-eminence of Christ. He is pre-eminent in creation, in the unseen world and in the Church! What about my life? Is Christ pre-eminent there? This is the One in Whom Divine fulness is pleased to dwell!
He is the reconciler of all things, v.19. Note that God is never reconciled to us but everything needs to be reconciled to Him. This is because of our estrangement and alienation from God in our sin. In this aspect we were enemies in our minds by wicked (evil) works. The outcome of the work of reconciliation by the Lord Jesus is peace, purification and presentation. He has made peace through the blood of His cross. He has made us holy, pure, in His sight and will present us without blame and beyond any charge through His death.
Note that the scope of the work of reconciliation is “things on the earth, or things in the heavens” (Newberry margin) and does not extend to things under the earth (infernal), which are beyond the possibility of reconciliation.
Paul makes reference again to their faith and hope in v.23. The faith with which they began is the faith in which they are to continue. If they “continue in the faith” this will prove the genuine character of their faith. The eternal security of the believer depends on God, and not on us, but remaining steadfast in faith gives assurance, to ourselves and to fellow-believers, that we truly belong to Him.
Their faith was on a firm foundation and they had to take care not to allow the false teachers to move them away from the hope they had embraced through the gospel. The errorists claimed they had special knowledge which was only revealed to the initiated, but the gospel was for the whosoever, going out to all under heaven.
- Christ is pre-eminent in all things
- It took the blood of His cross to make peace
- The work of Christ is far reaching and is able to bring all things back to God
- One day He will present us beyond reproach before Him
- We must persevere in our faith and be firm to stand against the assault of false teaching.
To be continued (D.V.)
POTS, PITCHERS AND WATERPOTS
by Denis O’Hare (France)
In Biblical times, a pitcher was an essential object in daily life and so it is not surprising to see several mentions of pitchers or pots in the Scriptures. We will see that their use was not always to carry water.
THE WIFE FOR ISAAC – Gen.24.14-46
“And it came to pass, before he had done speaking, that behold, Rebekah came out … and she went down to the well, and filled her pitcher, and came up” vv.15,16.
Abraham’s servant did not trust his own judgment, when he was sent to find a wife for Isaac, his master’s son. He was cast on God to lead him and we see the foreknowledge of God revealed in that before the servant had finished praying, Rebekah was already on her way to the well with her waterpot.
What he did reminds us of Gideon, who asked for a sign that God had chosen him to deliver Israel from the Midianites. The sign was that dew was just to be on the fleece that he laid out, and not on the ground. Then he asked for confirmation so that the dew would be on the ground and not on the fleece, Judg.6.36-40. In both cases, the person asked for a definite sign from God, and He graciously granted the request.
At the well, Rebekah did exactly what the servant had asked, revealing her kind nature, giving him to drink from her pitcher and then giving water to his camels. Her generous spirit is seen in that she did it for a man that she had never met but who was thirsty and whose beasts also needed to drink. He then says something that speaks to us. He says: “I being in the way, the LORD led me” v.27. By this statement we are reminded that, if we want God to answer our prayers, then we need to be in a state where we are ready to receive His response. The servant did not just sit and do nothing, but was at the well, looking to God to act in response to his prayer. May we be always found “in the way” as it were, daily serving God, in whatever small way to be led as He wills.
THE WILDERNESS PROVISION – Heb.9.3,4
“And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant …”
When Israel had crossed the Red Sea, before them lay the vast desert region of Sinai. How were they to be sustained in such a journey, with insufficient food? We know that they were led by the cloudy pillar, Neh.9.12, but we also know that they received bread from heaven in the form of the manna. Manna was kept in the golden pot as a lasting testimony to God’s faithfulness. The Lord Jesus refers to the manna in John chapter 6 in reply to those that sought a sign: “… Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world” Jn.6.32,33. The manna preserved in the pot remained fresh, yet another miracle, and as a reminder that if all else fails in life, “He faileth not” Zeph.3.5.
THE WIDOW’S SUFFICIENCY – 1Kgs.17.13,14
“And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, ‘The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth.’”
At first glance, one would think that Elijah was being selfish, demanding that he be first served before the poor widow and her son. In fact, he was simply testing her faith, for what was more important, her survival or the needs of the prophet of the Most High God? She was abundantly rewarded, for, shortly after, when her son was dying God used His servant to revive the child, 1Kgs.17.17-24. She had learned of God’s faithfulness and in her time of distress her son was restored to her and her needs were met sufficiently day after day; the barrel of meal and the cruse or pot of oil being constantly renewed. She would teach us the importance of giving God the first place in our lives. This is the truth that we see in 1Sam.2.30: “Them that honour Me I will honour.”
THE WOMAN OF SAMARIA – Jn.4.7,28-30
“There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, ‘Give Me to drink’ … the woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, ‘Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?’ Then they went out of the city, and came unto Him.”
Samaria was a district in the northern part of Judaea on the southern border of Galilee. The Samaritans were the descendants of Jews who had intermarried with Gentiles and for this they were despised by the Jewish population. The Lord was leaving Judaea and His journey took Him through this province, when He came to Jacob’s well, the scene of His encounter with the Samaritan woman. The woman was surprised when the Lord spoke to her, for the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans was well known. Later, when the Lord said to the Pharisees that they were not true sons of Abraham and told them that the devil was their father, their response was to accuse Him of being a Samaritan, Jn.8.48, a people despised and hated by the Jews. To this woman He revealed the secrets of her life and the effect was for her to abandon her waterpot and go into the city to tell of her encounter with the Lord Jesus.
Three times we read of an individual Samaritan in the Gospels. In Lk.10.33, we have the good Samaritan. In Lk.17.16 we have the healed leper who was a glad Samaritan and then we have a grateful Samaritan, this woman, who said: “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did” v.29.
We can learn an important lesson from this. The activities that were most important to us before we were saved, including legitimate and necessary things, are no longer the priority. When the heart is occupied with Christ, then living for Him and witnessing for Him take first place.
THE WHEREABOUTS OF THE LAST SUPPER – Mk.14.12-15
“And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, His disciples said unto Him, ‘Where wilt Thou that we go and prepare that Thou mayest eat the passover?’ And He sendeth forth two of His disciples, and saith unto them, ‘Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water; follow him … And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us.’”
From the Gospel accounts, we would understand that the owner of the house had already met the Lord and had prepared the upper room. So that there could be no misunderstanding on the part of the apostles, he was to go out to meet them doing something unusual for a man: he was to carry a pitcher of water, which would seem to have been a task normally undertaken by women, as in the cases of Rebekah and the Samaritan woman. Thus they were guided by a man carrying a pitcher of water to this place where they would celebrate that memorable Passover, an event that would have momentous consequences for the world.
This is an example of how simple events, involving seemingly commonplace items, can, in the purpose of God, have far-reaching consequences. These men obeyed a straightforward instruction, not knowing the benefits that would flow from it. We will not have to carry out the same task as they; yet God’s Word has instructions for us, and, even in those areas that may appear mundane, our obedience to it can result in untold blessings.
Good Tidings from Heaven
BEHOLD THE FOWLS OF THE AIR
It is remarkable how that profound truth can be illustrated by the simplest and most common events. We can still recall Bible stories that we loved to hear when we were children. For example, the Lord Jesus Christ told the story of a farmer who sowed seed but very little was productive. This was neither the fault of the sower, nor the seed, but it depended on the soil, Luke 8.4-15. He also told the story of a rich farmer who had bumper harvests year upon year and decided to pull down his barns and build larger to contain all that he had amassed. While he was a shrewd farmer, he planned without God and the Lord Jesus called him a fool, Luke 12.16-21. The story of two men who each built a house is timeless, Matthew 7.24-27. Their houses may have looked the same but there was one very important difference which was not really visible, and that was the foundations. These are constructed first and when the walls have reached above ground level then the foundations are covered and the maxim “out of sight, out of mind” applies. One man, called foolish, built his house on the sand and the other, termed wise, built upon the rock. When the floods and the winds came, the sand upon which the foundation of the foolish was constructed was washed away and the house collapsed. These illustrate the truths that we must prepare the ground before sowing, in order to get fruit; we ought not to plan without consulting God; we must have a sure foundation upon which to build for eternity.
These things were brought to my mind as I watched birds in our garden. We left out scraps, and sparrows and blackbirds came almost immediately. The sparrows busily pecked the food, some they ate and some they carried away to their nests. The blackbirds spent their time chasing each other away and when they eventually came for food, it was gone. The blackbirds were fighting while the sparrows were feasting.
Let us take a moment to “Behold the fowls of the air” Matthew 6.26. Do we fight or feed? Sometimes we speak to a person about their need of the Saviour, One Who will cleanse away all their sins, ensuring they will have a place in heaven for all eternity. This is something all need, since Romans 3.23 states, “For all have sinned”. The usual reaction of the person who is a product of modern society is to fight! They argue, refusing to acknowledge the Bible as the sole foundation for our faith, the Divine benchmark upon which all Christians build their hopes for eternity. Their edifice will collapse.
However, instead of fighting, you can feed. It may be asked, “Feed on what?” The answer is not a matter of “What?” but “Whom?” Eternal salvation is not built on the sandy foundation of religion, church-going, good works, etc. but on the Rock Christ Jesus, Who shed His blood sacrificially so that our sins can be forgiven on a righteous basis. 1John 1.7 declares, “… the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” The apostle Peter wrote that redemption is based on “… the precious blood of Christ …” 1Peter 1.19.
Each person who will be in heaven will have, at some point in his or her life, partaken of Christ by faith, and so we read that the Lord Jesus said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever” John 6.51. “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” Revelation 22.17. We need to feed, not fight.
A Proverb to Ponder
- “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.” Proverbs 1.10
- Those who do all manner of evil love to have the company of others in their actions, and if they can bring along with them those who had a testimony for God, they will be all the more delighted. To any of us who may be under pressure from the ungodly to get involved in any manner of sin, Solomon gives a clear, unequivocal instruction, with no exceptions: “consent thou not”. Bad company is to be avoided, and the only answer to the seduction of sinners is a firm and uncompromising “No!” Many years later, Paul wrote, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” Eph.5.11.