ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY BIBLE CLASS
by J. Riddle
TRAITS OF THE TRIBES
by I. McKee
NOTES ON THE PRISON EPISTLES
by A. Summers
COMFORT FOR CHRISTIANS IN A CHANGING WORLD
by R. Reynolds
THE GIFT OF TONGUES
by W. M. Banks
NOTES ON THE PRAYERS OF THE SAVIOUR IN LUKE’S GOSPEL
by A. Henry
THE GOOD SHEPHERD – JOHN CHAPTER 10
by J. Gibson
Assembly Testimony Bible Class
by J. Riddle (England)
THE FIRST BOOK OF PSALMS
No.26: Psalm 19 (Part 1)
This wonderful Psalm describes two ways in which God reveals Himself. First of all, He reveals Himself without words. So, in vv.1-6, we have the message of the skies. Then He reveals Himself through His Word. So, in vv.7-14, we have the message of the Scriptures. In the first case, men are impressed. In the second, men are changed.
The Psalm may be divided as follows:
- The Glory of God, vv.1-6: “The heavens declare the glory of God”
- The Word of God, vv.7-11: “The law of the LORD is perfect”
- The Servant of God, vv.12-14: “By them is Thy servant warned … keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins”.
One of the important lessons from Psalm 19 lies in the Divine titles used. In connection with the message of the heavens, vv.1-6, the Name used is El. It occurs once in this section of the Psalm. In connection with the message of the Scriptures, vv.7-14, the Name used is Jehovah. It occurs seven times in this section of the Psalm.
The Names El and Elohim are used of God as Creator, and emphasise His glory. The Name Jehovah is used of God in covenant relationship with His people, and emphasises His grace. This is clearly illustrated in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. In Genesis chapter 1, with its historical account of creation, the Divine name used is Elohim. It is a plural word (the plural of Eloah, which combines two words – El and alah, the latter meaning ‘to worship or adore’). The very first thing that we learn about God in Scripture, after His eternity, is that He is to be worshipped and adored! The creed which says that “man’s chief end is to glorify God” is quite correct. But in Genesis chapter 2, where we have God with man His creature, the title Jehovah is added. The A.V. distinguishes between the two titles by using the titles “God” in Genesis chapter 1 and “LORD God” in Genesis chapter 2. The New Translation (J.N.D.) distinguishes between the two titles by using the words “God” and “Jehovah Elohim”.
The fact that Scripture uses different Divine titles in different circumstances will save us from the “miserable theories of an Eloist and Jehovist writer of the Pentateuch, by which they attempt to disprove the Mosaic authorship” (Arno C. Gabelein). Clever people try to argue that the different names mean different sources, and that the opening chapters of Genesis are really a ‘hotchpotch’ of different documents written by different writers. Such people fall into the category of Rom.1.22: “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools”.
In this paper we will consider vv.1-6, and in the next paper vv.7-14.
THE GLORY OF GOD – vv.1-6 (The Message of the Skies)
This section may be analysed as follows:
- The Heavens Generally – vv.1-4a
- The Sun Particularly – vv.4b-6
The Heavens Generally – vv.1-4a
We should notice at least two things here: the glory of the Creator (“The heavens declare the glory of God”) and the work of the Creator (“the firmament sheweth His handiwork”) v.1. Why does David not write, ‘The earth declares the glory of God’, as, for example, in Ps.8.1, “O LORD [Jehovah] our Lord [Adonahy], how excellent is Thy name in all the earth!”? The emphasis in Psalm 19 is upon the supreme demonstration of His majesty, power and infinity. In fact, Psalm 8 continues by emphasising this very point: “O LORD our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth! Who hast set Thy glory above the heavens”. Let’s give some thought to this magnificent statement:
“The heavens declare the glory of God”
The Magnificence of Them Declares His Glory
We can catch the feeling of awe in David’s voice elsewhere, “When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers …” Ps.8.3. Scripture abounds with references to “[His] heavens” as “the work of [His] fingers”. For example: “And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: He made the stars also” Gen.1.16; “Seek Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night” Amos 5.8; “He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing … by His Spirit He hath garnished the heavens; and His hand hath formed the crooked serpent. Lo, these are parts of His ways: but how little a portion is heard of Him?” Job 26.7-14; “Which alone speadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea. Which maketh Arcturus, Orion and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south” Job 9.8,9; “That stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in” Isa.40.22.
The Maintenance of Them Declares His Glory
The Lord asks Job, “Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? Or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons?” Job 38.31,32. According to the New Testament, “By Him all things consist” Col.1.17. See also Ps.119.90,91: “Thou hast established the earth, and it abideth. They continue this day according to Thine ordinances: for all are Thy servants”.
The Magnitude of Them Declares His Glory
“Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them” Gen.15.5.
The Memory of Them Declares His Glory
“Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things: that bringeth out their host by number: He calleth them all by names by the greatness of His might, for that He is strong in power; not one faileth” Isa.40.26.
This leads us to some Scriptural conclusions:
We should acknowledge our limitations. “God is in heaven, and thou upon earth” Eccl.5.2; “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” Isa.55.9.
We should acknowledge our insignificance. “When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers … What is man that Thou art mindful of him? …” Ps.8.3,4. But, thankfully, God in grace is mindful of us. This leads to worship.
We should acknowledge our insubordination. “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” Rom.1.20. In passing, we should notice that the word rendered “Godhead” here (theiotes), refers to the revelation by God of Himself in nature, and while men cannot come to know Him by this means, they can do so in the Lord Jesus, of Whom it is said, wonderfully, “in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead [theotes] bodily” Col.2.9.
The competent authorities tell us that theotes refers to the revelation by God of Himself in His Son, whereas theiotes points to the fact that creation reflects a glory and splendour not its own. The Lord Jesus is absolutely and personally God. We are reminded that “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” 2Cor.4.6.
“The firmament sheweth His handiwork”
The linkage of “The heavens declare the glory of God” with “the firmament sheweth His handiwork” demonstrates the character of Hebrew poetry, where ideas are repeated, rather than similarly sounding words.
The statement, “the firmament sheweth His handiwork” should be compared with Gen.1.17, “And God set them in the firmament of the heaven”, but the Psalmist adds the words “His handiwork”, reminding us that “of old hast Thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the works of Thy hands” Ps.102.25.
In the following verses (vv.2-4) we are told that the testimony to the glory of God is:
Unceasing – v.2
“Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge”. The words “uttereth speech” have the idea of ‘pouring forth’ an unbroken testimony to God’s glory and power; it is a perpetual testimony. This is our testimony too: see Phil.2.15. Derek Kidner, in the “Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries”, has a nice comment: “Knowledge is well matched with night, since without the night skies man would have known, until recently, nothing but an empty universe”.
Unspoken – v.3
“No speech nor language … their voice is not heard”. (Omit “There is” and “where”, which, as the italics in the passage show, are not in the original). See J.N.D., “There is no speech and there are no words, yet their voice is heard”. This voice does not address the ear of man, but the heart of man! Compare Ps.65.8.
Unlimited – v.4
“Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world”. The word means a measuring line. This verse is quoted in Rom.10.18 in connection with the gospel: “But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, ‘LORD, who hath believed our report?’ So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, ‘Their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world’” Rom.10.16-18.
The Sun Particularly – vv.4b-6
“In them hath He set a tabernacle for the sun”. So, the centre of the testimony of the heavens is the sun! This is an eloquent reminder of the fact that the Divine centre of God’s glory is Christ. “Unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise …” Mal.4.2.
We should notice that four things are said about the sun:
Its Splendour – v.5
“Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber”. We are told that the word “chamber” could refer to the bridal canopy at a Jewish wedding. The Scriptures abound with references to the splendour of Christ. For example: “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? This that is glorious in His apparel” Isa.63.1; “His face did shine as the sun” Matt.17.2; “His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength” Rev.1.16. The fact that the figure of a “bridegroom” is used suggests love for all.
Its Strength – v.5
“And rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race”. See, again, Isa.63.1, “travelling in the greatness of His strength”; also Isa.40.10, “Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand [‘as a mighty one’ R.V.]”. This suggests strength for all.
Its Sphere – v.6
It is universal. “His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it”. The day will come when “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea” Hab.2.14. This suggests light for all.
Its Sustenance – v.6
“And there is nothing hid from the heat thereof”. Here is the sustaining power of the sun. The sun is the source of light, life and fruitfulness; a glowing picture of the Lord Jesus, Who, as “the Sun of Righteousness”, will “arise with healing in His wings” or, better, “healing in His rays”, since the reference is to the beneficent rays of the sun, Mal.4.2. This suggests provision for all.
In all four ways, the position of the sun in the heavens is a beautiful picture of the Lord Jesus Himself. Just as our solar system revolves round the sun, so Christ is the centre of all God’s dealings with men and women. It is summed up in 2Sam.23.3,4: “The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain”.
Having considered the Glory of God, in the next paper, Lord willing, we will look at the Word of God and the Servant of God.
To be continued (D.V.)
Traits of the Tribes
by Ian McKee, N. Ireland
We now come in our considerations to Judah. Again, we shall consider: Judah the man; the tribe; and the lessons.
JUDAH – THE MAN
Leah was also the mother of Jacob’s fourth son. “And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, ‘Now will I praise the LORD:’ therefore she called his name Judah; and left bearing” Gen.29.35. By now Leah surely has recognised that developing a close emotional rapport with Jacob is most unlikely. However, she has a sense of gratitude to God as evidenced in the name she gave to her newborn: “Judah”, meaning ‘praise’. In the midst of life’s disappointments, Leah finds her joy in God.
We have no details about Judah’s early years. Like his brothers, he had a nomadic, agricultural lifestyle in an extended family with interpersonal tensions: Jacob with Laban, and between Leah and Rachel.
Our first insight into Judah’s personality and character is given at Dothan, where he was present when all of Joseph’s older brothers “conspired against him to slay him” Gen.37.18. While all of his brethren were complicit in the cruelty against Joseph, Reuben and Judah are named specifically. We have already considered Reuben’s vacillations. However, Judah was much more decisive and, although he saved Joseph’s life, his actions were not praiseworthy! “And Judah said unto his brethren, ‘What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh.’ And his brethren were content” Gen.37.26,27. As a result of Judah’s initiative and leadership Joseph is sold as a ‘human commodity’ to slave traders and carried off into Egypt. Then Jacob is cruelly deceived and is broken-hearted; and that deception and cover-up is maintained for over twenty years!
“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper” Prov.28.13, is borne out in Judah’s case. Following on from his despicable actions in relation to Joseph, we read, “And it came to pass at that time, that Judah went down from his brethren, and turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her. And she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Er” Gen.38.1-3. This represents a clear break with family precedent. We remember that Abraham was careful about a bride for Isaac: “thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites” Gen.24.3. Isaac was similarly concerned about a bride for Jacob: “Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan” Gen.28.1.
So, in the immediate aftermath of the treacherous dealings at Dothan and the subsequent deception of Jacob, Judah acquires a new friend. The fact that it is stated that he went “down from his brethren” Gen.38.1, suggests that he was seeking a clean break in a futile attempt to put his shameful past behind him. His new friend, Hirah the Adullamite, introduces Judah to a new circle of acquaintances where he sees the daughter of Shuah, who represents everything that Abraham and Isaac abhorred. Guided by sight, not faith, he marries and later three sons are born: Er, Onan and Shelah, with the youngest born at Chezib, a Canaanite town, Gen.38.5.
Judah, who had caused sorrow to his father in relation to Joseph, now reaps double of the same. Er, after marrying Tamar, “was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him” Gen.38.7. Judah’s second son, Onan, was expected to perpetuate his dead brother’s seed and name. While he married Tamar and had intimacy with her, Onan deliberately frustrated the intention of Levirate marriage so that “the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore He slew him also” Gen.38.10.
Thus Judah, and his daughter-in-law, Tamar, experience double sorrow. To her he promises that Shelah, his third son, will be her husband once he reaches maturity. This was a promise that Judah did not keep, “Lest peradventure he [Shelah] die also, as his brethren did” Gen.38.11. But a promise made is a debt unpaid and this one will be discharged, with unanticipated consequences.
Judah experiences further grief. “And in process of time the daughter of Shuah, Judah’s wife, died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheepshearers to Timnath, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite” Gen.38.12. This friendship with Hirah is one of long standing, fulfilling an emotional need outwith family. Judah, whatever his dark memories and grief, gives no evidence of turning to God in repentance and confession.
The following passage, Gen.38.13-30, relating events on the road to Timnath, is sordid indeed. Judah, whose name means ‘praise’, engages in sexual relations with someone he believes to be a harlot (grievous itself), unaware that she is Tamar, his daughter-in-law! Judah, who deceived Jacob by the subtle use of a garment, is himself deceived by a garment: that which covered Tamar’s face. Judah’s parting with his wealth for carnal pleasure has shades of his uncle Esau selling his birthright for instant gratification, Genesis chapter 25. The birth of twin boys as a result of Judah’s incestuous relationship with Tamar also has parallels with Lot’s fathering of Moab and Ammon, Genesis chapter 19. Yet, for the first time, we hear honest words from Judah: “She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son.” Then follows appropriate behaviour: “And he knew her again no more” Gen.38.26.
Coincident with Judah’s years of sorrow and shame, Joseph (who had also parted with a garment, but in the preservation of his purity, Gen.39.12) had risen to become governor over all the land of Egypt. He has taken twenty per cent of Egyptian grain production into intervention storage during the seven years of plenty, against the need in the seven years of famine. Judah, with all the guilty brothers, eventually stands in the presence of (the as yet unrecognised) Joseph. We need not rehearse all the subsequent events. However, we note that Judah prevailed, where Reuben failed, in persuading Jacob to allow Benjamin to accompany them to Egypt on the second occasion. This was vital to obtain food and preserve the life of all Jacob’s progeny.
Judah is again honest and honourable, saying to Jacob, “The man did solemnly protest unto us, saying, ‘Ye shall not see my face, except your brother be with you’” Gen.43.3. “And Judah said unto Israel his father, ‘Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones. I will be surety for him [Benjamin]; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever’” Gen.43.8,9. Judah approaching his father about the good of others and with preparedness to go surety is greatly surpassed by Another, born into the tribe of Judah, Who, in love to the Father, and to bless us eternally, entered into a greater responsibility and became surety on our behalf!
When Joseph’s silver cup was found in Benjamin’s sack on leaving Egypt, Judah assumed a leadership and representational role. “And Judah and his brethren came to Joseph’s house; for he was yet there: and they fell before him on the ground … And Judah said, ‘What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants …’” Gen.44.14-16. Judah, who sold his brother into slavery, accepts that he and all his brothers are slaves of the unrecognised Joseph!
- Though the mills of God grind slowly,
- yet they grind exceeding small;
- Though with patience He stands waiting,
- with exactness grinds He all.
- (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)
Joseph then tests Judah with the proposal that Benjamin only should be enslaved, with all others free to return home. “Then Judah came near unto him [Joseph], and said, ‘Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord’s ears’” Gen.44.18. He then rehearses all the conversation he had with Jacob before leaving home, including Jacob’s statement of sorrow on his being bereft of Joseph. He adds his own assessment that the loss of Benjamin would be fatal to his father and discloses that he had given a personal commitment to be surety in respect of Benjamin’s safe return. Judah’s closing words to Joseph are precious: “Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren. For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father” Gen.44.33,34. Judah is a man at last, albeit a very late developer!
Judah is prepared to become a bondservant to secure Benjamin’s release. But what Judah offered, our Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled. Our deliverance required a greater surety: “… Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a [bond]servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” Phil.2.5-8. How many since then have given praise to Him?!
When Jacob and his family later relocate to Egypt, the sons of Judah are listed, including Pharez and Zarah, whose mother was Tamar, Gen.46.12. If that is surprising, read Matt.1.3 and Lk.3.33!
Judah received a delegated position of leadership en route to Egypt, “And he [Jacob] sent Judah before him unto Joseph, to direct his face unto Goshen; and they came into the land of Goshen” Gen.46.28.
From such unlikely human beginnings, God outworks His purpose in history and grace.
To be continued (D.V.)
NOTES ON THE PRISON EPISTLES
By Alan Summers (Scotland)
Paper 10 – EPHESIANS CHAPTER 6
CHILDREN AND PARENTS
The opening paragraphs of Ephesians chapter 6 continue to deal with relationships in the home. In this section Paul deals with children and their parents and slaves and their masters.
Paul highlights two overlapping obligations children owe to their parents. These are the obligations of obedience and honour. The obligation of obedience arises because the Bible teaches that parents have authority over their children until they become independent, see for example Eph.5.21. The obligation to honour parents is a wider duty and continues for as long as the parent lives, 1Tim.5.8. That such an obligation was expressed in the Ten Commandments shows how fundamental the issue is.
There are obvious reasons why a child should obey his or her parents. Children lack the maturity to know what is good for them; though they may not see that. Children also tend to focus on their own needs whereas adults are more inclined and better equipped to take account of collective interests, such as that of the family. The Lord Jesus was submissive to Joseph and Mary, Lk.2.51, even though at times their wishes were contrary to His. Children should seek to follow His example. Honour is rooted in different considerations. Honour is based on the respect that a child should have for parents as opposed to the authority parents wield. Respect is based on an acknowledgement that the child owes his or her existence to parents and the sacrifices parents make in order to rear children, compare Heb.12.9.
Does this passage mean children must obey their parents in all circumstances? The answer strictly speaking is ‘no’. Thus for example if a parent wishes a child to tell a lie or act unlawfully, obedience would be wrong. In general, however, obedience is the rule. The family, as an institution, goes back to creation and may be seen in various guises across all cultures. The obligations set out by Paul describe a natural order. If so the obligations of obedience and honour describe what is proper and do not depend on whether the parents, or children for that matter, are Christian or not. Nor do they depend on whether the parents are in the eyes of the child ‘good’ parents.
Everyone would acknowledge that children mature at different rates. Most agree however that childhood is left behind by the mid to late teens. Thus for example a girl can consent to be married when she is 16. A boy can drive a car when he is 17. These factors suggest that society considers that children can be trusted to make important decisions for themselves and undertake responsibility by their late teens.
MASTERS AND SLAVES
Although slavery is unknown now in the U.K., slavery was lawful in the Roman Empire of which the city of Ephesus was part. Indeed slavery was common throughout the world at that time and was permitted under Old Testament law. In the New Testament slaves were part of everyday life and were found in most households. The abolition of slavery has not made Paul’s teaching redundant. Although the fit between the master-servant relationship and the employer-employee relationship is not a neat one, the principles that Paul sets out cross the boundaries between slavery and employment.
The main lessons are that Christians should be obedient to their employer and that their service should be whole-hearted. They should not do the minimum necessary to get by. The Christians’ standard is that which they would offer to Christ. Of course, Christians should not, as far as possible, allow their employment to get in the way of other aspects of their service for Christ such as gathering with the assembly.
In light of all this, Christian employees need to be wary about opposing their employers in disputes over pay and conditions. There is no harm in standing up for what is fair and just but the Christian cannot confront his employer. It is admitted that the employer-employee relationship is more complex than the master-slave relationship. The masters in Ephesus are today multinational corporations with Human Resources departments and detailed employment policies intended to protect the employees from exploitation. However, sometimes pay disputes can be power struggles between two sides determined to get the best possible deal. Trade Union membership can also be problematic. While not all Trade Unions are militant, some support causes that are hard to reconcile with Scripture.
The masters are obliged to “do the same things unto them”, that is, the slaves, 6.9. In other words Paul teaches that masters have to treat their slaves with the same respect and sincerity of heart they would show to Christ. Although Paul never advocated the abolition of slavery, these words fatally undermine all the exploitative aspects of slavery as well as the institution itself. The idea of ‘owning’ another human being as one might own a tool or animal is incompatible with Paul’s teaching. Thus, although Paul did not say anything which could have been understood as a political or revolutionary ambition (about one third of the Roman Empire were in slavery and its economy depended on them) he taught principles that would, if practised, lead to its abolition.
CHRISTIANS AND THE DEVIL
The epistle closes with a picture of the ‘Christian soldier’. In Ephesians the Christian’s adversary is not so much the world or the flesh but the devil. The world is under the control of the devil, Eph.2.2, not Prime Ministers or Emperors. Even the “air” surrounding the earth is populated by evil powers, Eph.2.2. To meet this foe God supplies him with weapons and armour with which to defend himself. The armour must however be “put on” Eph.6.11,13. It is no good languishing in the locker! Hence, protection is found in the measure we are in the good of the provision God has made. Paul is not suggesting that the armour is used every day or that the devil is constantly attacking, but every now and then an “evil day” arrives, 6.13. In that “evil day” the attacks are energised by the devil and implemented by his emissaries (“principalities”, “powers” and “rulers”). He does not specify what form the attack may take and he does not insist that every trial or difficulty is energised by Satan. However he does insist that to ward off these attacks the Christian needs to be in the good of “truth”, “righteousness”, “the gospel”, “faith”, “salvation” and the “word of God”. These defences interlink like mail. The “word of God” is the source of “truth”. “Salvation” is the product of the “gospel”. “Righteousness” comes through “faith”. While the metaphor may be inspired by Old Testament depictions of the Lord as a warrior it is more likely that it refers to the equipment of the Roman soldiers that formed part of Paul’s daily life in Rome when he wrote this letter. Each had a belt round his waist which ‘girded their loins’. From it hung the scabbard for the sword and kept his tunic in place. They wore a breastplate and sturdy marching shoes. They carried shields, wore a helmet and bore a sword. These six items are supplemented by a further ‘defence’: watchfulness, 6.18. If a soldier sleeps, his enemies may overpower him no matter how fine his armour. While the picture is largely one of defence, the Christian may carry the battle to the opposition; hence, the reference to the gospel as depicted by a soldier’s footwear. With such shoes he may “stand firm” 6.11,13, and “wrestle” 6.12, in close combat but also march forward with the message, 6.15,19. The sword is an offensive as well as defensive weapon. The only items of a legionary’s equipment that are omitted in this metaphor are the spear and leg guards (‘greaves’).
To be continued (D.V.)
Comfort for Christians in a Changing World
by Roy Reynolds (N. Ireland)
“My beloved is mine, and I am His.” Song of Solomon 2.16
He is my Shepherd, He is my Friend, He is my Rock, He is my Saviour, the matchless lover of my soul; He is all in all to me. Without Him I am nothing; I have nothing; I can do nothing.
He saved my soul, He forgave my sins; “He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings” Ps.40.2. He gives me songs in the night and has girded me with hopes that nothing can destroy.
“He tells me I shall shortly be enthroned with Him above the sky; O what a friend is Christ to me!”
At all times, in all places He is with me and forever I will be with Him.
His “name is as ointment poured forth”; “His countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars … yea, He is altogether lovely”. He is precious and peerless; none can with Him compare, “the chiefest among ten thousand”. “This is my beloved, and this is my friend”.
- And round my heart still closely twine
- Those ties which nought can sever;
- For I am His and He is mine
- For ever and for ever.
“What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us?” Genesis 24.65
“What manner of man is this?” asked the bewildered disciples as they witnessed His awesome power over creation, stilling the storm and calming the troubled waves. A Man peerless as to His Person, perfect in His ways, pure as to His character and pleasing to God in every aspect of His Being.
Soon, like Rebekah, we will have crossed the desert sands; the tedious journey will be over and in a moment of unprecedented bliss, we will catch our first glimpse of the Man to Whom our hearts have been won forever.
This is what makes His coming so thrilling; it is not so much the event but the Person Who is coming. Like the Thessalonians we “wait for His Son from heaven”; like the wise virgins of Matthew chapter 25, we long to see the glorious Bridegroom of our hearts.
And, wonder of wonders, He longs to meet us. “He comes, for Oh His yearning heart, no more can bear delay; to scenes of full, unmingled joy, to call His Bride away.” Who is this Who comes to meet me?
- He it is Who came to win me,
- On the cross of shame;
- In His glory well I know Him,
- Evermore the same.
The Gift of Tongues
by Wiliam M. Banks (Scotland)
THE RELATIVE AND TRANSIENT VALUE OF THE GIFT OF TONGUES IN 1CORINTHIANS CHAPTERS 12-14
The relative value of the gift of tongues is seen in a variety of ways in these chapters. The first indication of its relativity in relation to other gifts is seen in the position it occupies in the lists of gifts. Tongues and the interpretation of tongues come as the last two gifts mentioned in 1Cor.12.10,30. The fact that an ‘order of priority’ is involved is seen particularly in v.28: “first … secondarily … thirdly … after that … then …” The order is clearly one of importance, value and dignity. Tongues are thus seen to be least in value and importance. This is in direct contrast to ‘Pentecostal’ and ‘Charismatic’ emphasis.
In addition the total numbers speaking in tongues was apparently very limited: “Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?” 1Cor.12.29,30. Since there were only a few apostles and prophets the answer is not in doubt in relation to the subject of tongues: a definite “no”! It is highly likely that there were only a few ‘tongues speakers’ in Corinth albeit doing great damage in the assembly. The “all” of vv.29,30 is in direct contrast to the “all” of v.13. All believers are baptised in the Spirit, 1Cor.12.13; all believers do not speak in tongues; so there is no essential connection between the two. Tongues were thus elementary and not of major significance though of course they had their place for the Church in its infancy, and so were also temporary (see later).
The paucity of references in the New Testament to this gift is also another confirmatory factor of the relative unimportance of tongues. In addition this paucity is an important indicator that they are not permanent in the present dispensation, a matter to be considered and confirmed later. The New Testament only makes reference to tongues in Mark chapter 16; Acts chapter 2, chapter 10, chapter 19 and 1Corinthians chapters 12-14. As noted above, this was for authenticating purposes and for attesting something new particularly a new message. There is no reference to the gift in the later lists of gifts in Romans chapter 12 or Ephesians chapter 4. They were thus confirmatory of a new message.
The purpose of the gift in the early Church is further elucidated in 1Cor.14.21,22. The background is Deut.28.49 and Isa.28.11,12. The foreign tongue was that of the Assyrian (speaking in the Jews’ language 2Kgs.18.26-28) and the subject was the tenure of the land. It was to be temporarily over. The nation was going to be taken to Babylon. The lesson to the unbelieving Jews at Corinth was clear: the nation was to be set aside and the gospel to be preached to the Gentiles. The gift therefore had dispensational significance: it was not for subjective experience but for objective purposes. The sign was therefore condemnatory of an unbelieving people.
Thus this sign gift was confirmatory of a new message, condemnatory of an unbelieving people, elementary and temporary1.
- 1. Rogers, E.W. in “Believers Magazine”. John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock, Dec. 2009, Jan. 2010.
THE PLACE OF “TONGUES” IN THE CLASSIFICATION OF THE GIFTS OF GRACE
There are a number of different ways of classifying the lists of gifts in 1Corinthians chapters 12-14, Romans chapter 12 and Ephesians chapter 4. One of these is examined here considering the foundation gifts, the permanent gifts and the temporary gifts particularly in the context of 1Cor.13.8-13. It is in this latter context that the temporary nature of the gift of tongues is considered but it is of interest to see the overall story.
The Foundation Gifts
There are really only two foundation gifts: those of apostles and prophets. They are first and second in order of importance in the list of gifts considered above in 1Cor.12.28 (compare Eph.4.11). The fact of their foundational character is emphasised in Eph.2.19,20: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone”. They are the ones through whom the mystery of Christ has been communicated, Eph.3.5.
The distinctions between apostles and prophets should be noted. An apostle was invested with special authority, for example 2Cor.12.12; 1Cor.5.4; 1Tim.1.20. The word is used of the Lord Jesus, Heb.3.1; of the Twelve, Lk.6.13: called “apostles of the Lamb”, Rev.21.14; of apostles of Christ, 1Thess.2.6; of apostles [“messengers” A.V.] of the churches, 2Cor.8.23, and of Paul and Barnabas, Acts 14.14. There are none today. Prophets in the New Testament were particularly linked with revelation; they received direct revelation from the Lord for communication to the Church before the completion of the canon of Scripture (see 1Corinthians. chapters 12-14, for example 14.30).
The public ministry of the apostles and prophets ceased once all truth had been revealed: the faith once for all delivered to the saints, Jude 3. Once the foundation was laid the need for the gifts ceased. However the ministry of the apostles and prophets has abiding value in the New Testament: the foundation must remain.
The Permanent Gifts
Five gifts are listed in Eph.4.11: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors (shepherds) and teachers. The last two are complementary and can be seen exemplified in the Lord Jesus in Eph.5.29, Who “… nourisheth and cherisheth … the church” as Shepherd and Teacher. While the apostles and prophets are not personally with us today, the teaching of the apostles and prophets, Eph.2.20, is permanently enshrined as foundation truth in the New Testament, particularly in the epistles.
The other three mentioned are however the abiding gifts operating today. The evangelist has his sphere of operation in the world although the objective is discipleship, Matt.28.16-20, with a view to abiding links to the local assembly. Ideally he is involved in pioneering work. Of course, being a gift as an evangelist does not preclude others from doing the work of an evangelist, 2Tim.4.5.
The pastor (shepherd) has his sphere of operation in the assembly, perhaps with a local context in view though, of course, the attributes associated with a shepherd could be used more widely. This wider sphere is appropriate in the context of the Epistle to the Ephesians dealing fundamentally with the Church which is the body of Christ, but additionally in the link with teaching which follows.
The teacher is certainly linked both locally and to the dispensational Church. The teacher should have a pastoral (shepherding) interest in those being taught, effectively being a “teaching shepherd”.
The Temporary Gifts in 1Corinthians 13.8
The nine gifts listed in 1Cor.12.8-10 are all temporary. While other passages can be used to ascertain the fact of the cessation of some of these gifts, the passage in 1Cor.13.8-13 is abundantly clear as to the temporary nature of prophecies, [the word of] knowledge and tongues. The mechanism for the cessation of both prophecies and knowledge is articulated clearly. So far as tongues are concerned the fact that they will “cease” is simply and unambiguously stated.
Prophecies shall fail (katargeo = ‘cease’), v.8b. The word for “shall fail” means to cease, translated to “put down” in 15.24 and “destroy” in 2Thess.2.8. Vine2 defines it as ‘to reduce to inactivity’. Here it is in the passive voice which indicates a forced cessation. There is an outside influence requiring it be reduced to inactivity.
2. Vine, W.E. “Amplified Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words”. World, U.S.A., No date.
Tongues shall cease (pauo = ‘desist, come to an end, be stilled’), v.8c. Here the verb is in the middle voice indicating a willing cessation with no outside influence; a built-in stop. The ‘mechanism’ for cessation may have begun as indicated in 1Corinthians chapter 14. In v.5 the apostle is indicating the superiority of prophecy to tongues for edification except there is interpretation: “… greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying”. In v.13 he says, “Wherefore let him that speaketh in an unknown [omit] tongue pray that he may interpret”. If the man of v.5 can now, as a result of prayer, interpret there is no need for a double statement; first in a tongue and then the same man interpreting what he said. He can simply immediately speak in the known language of his audience and in this way the use of the gift of tongues would desist, come to an end! There would be no need to speak in tongues!
Knowledge (the word of knowledge as a gift, 12.8) shall vanish away (katargeo = ‘cease’), v.8d: passive, with details as above for prophecy.
We might ask what the outside influence is that enables prophecies and knowledge to cease. Without going into detail (the subject is not the main purpose of this article), in 1Cor.13.8-13, the apostle contrasts three permanent graces with three temporary gifts, using four illustrations: partial (incomplete) revelation and perfect (mature, complete) revelation; infancy (“spake [tongues] as a child”) and maturity (man); seeing obscurely and face to face; partial knowledge and full knowledge. In this way he unambiguously concludes that they were done away with at the completion of the revelation of the “mystery”, Col.1.25-27, or at the latest the completion of the canon of Scripture.
“To suggest these gifts will be done away with at the coming of the Lord reduces the argument of the apostle to an absurdity, for then all gifts will have become redundant.”3
- 3. Davies, J.M. “The Lord and the Churches”. Pickering & Inglis Ltd., London, 1967.
The following observations are apposite:
The Nature of the Gift
The gift of tongues was one of the ‘sign gifts’. It was the supernatural ability to speak in a [known] language unknown to the speaker without having previously learned it. A “sign” is “a miracle or wonder by which God authenticates men sent by Him or by which men prove that the cause they are pleading is God’s”4 (for example 1Cor.1.22; 2Cor.12.12 “… truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you”). It was the last gracious sign to arouse the nation to repentance before dispersal among the nations.
- 4. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon Electronic Database Number 4592.
It parallels four other gifts in Mk.16.17,18 and those who emphasise the importance of and claim permanence for this gift should be willing to “take up serpents” and “drink any deadly thing”.
The Temporary Nature of the Gift
It was evidently not a continuing major factor in evangelism (contrast Acts chapter 2) or in the demonstration of the power of God in the spiritual life of the early Church. There is no mention in any epistle other than 1Corinthians.
It is not mentioned in the lists of gifts in the later Epistles of Romans (chapter 12) or Ephesians (chapter 4).
Its importance is everywhere played down by the apostle (for example 1Cor.12.28,30).
It was a sign to the Jew: they “require a sign”; the Greeks “seek after wisdom” 1Cor 1.22: so not relevant today.
The experience of past periods of miracles indicates that the miracles pass after their confirmatory purpose has been effected.
Doctrinal (scriptural) considerations confirm the temporary nature of the gift, 1Cor.13.8; Heb.2.3,4.
“The gift of tongues ceased after the kingdom ceased to be offered to Israel”5.
- 5. Bell, H. Personal communication from third
Dangers in Seeking the Gift Today
In the Scriptures, the gift is only prominent in a church which is notoriously unspiritual; indeed “carnal” 1Cor.3.1.
It is not a required sign of salvation; every believer did not have this gift, 1Cor.12.30.
It is not a proof of spirituality.
It is not related directly to the baptism in the Spirit.
It is an objective sign dispensationally, not for subjective experience, 1Cor.14.21,22.
To be continued (D.V.)
Notes On The Prayers Of The Saviour In Luke’s Gospel
by Alistair Henry
These notes were written to accompany a series taught in the assembly Bible Class at Uxbridge, England. The series was shared by three brethren, which is reflected in the individual styles of writing of the notes.
PRAYING AT HIS BAPTISM – Luke 3.21,22
Whilst this is not the first recorded prayer of Luke’s Gospel (see Lk.1.10,13) it is the first recorded prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ that Luke gives us. We are not told what He said, but we can learn lessons from the circumstances, character and consequences of His prayer.
THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF HIS PRAYER – v.21
1. A Common Baptism
Note the term “also”. The Saviour was pleased to associate with the people and in so doing He indicated His complete submission to the righteous demands of God. He never rebelled against the claims of the Law; indeed He fulfilled them completely.
2. A Unique Baptism
His baptism was after that of the people: there was something entirely unique about Him. He had no sin to confess and thus His was not a baptism of repentance. The Saviour is unalterably holy.
3. An Anticipatory Baptism
The Saviour would say later, “I have a baptism to be baptized with …” Lk.12.50, speaking of His death. That coming experience was, as it were, to be immersed in the judgment of God; and His experience at the Jordan was an anticipation of that. The shadow of Calvary was ever across His path.
THE CHARACTER OF HIS PRAYER – v.21
1. The Dependence of Prayer
The word used is the general word for man praying to God. Therefore, Luke portrays the One Who prayed, in one sense, like we do. We come as dependent people before our God and call upon Him in our need. As we will see, this was the constant characteristic of His dependent behaviour.
2. The Habit of Prayer
The tense would indicate that He had been praying before this. Therefore, we see the habit the Saviour had established of calling upon His God. He was cast upon God from the womb, Ps.22.10. That desire to please His Father was manifest at earliest days, Lk.2.49.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF HIS PRAYER – vv.21,22
1. The Descending Spirit
This manifestation of the Spirit of God has at least two significances:
(i) It was the formal setting apart/anointing of the Saviour for His public, Messianic, ministry. This was the open fulfilment of Isa.11.2; 42.1; 61.1.
(ii) It was the public declaration of His intrinsic and unalterable holiness, for the dove would only rest on the clean ground, Gen.8.9. The verdict on the preceding thirty years (note Lk.3.23) was that His was a sinless life.
2. The Voice from Heaven
God’s voice from heaven sets out two great claims:
(i) That God approved of His Person: “My Son”. God publicly owned that eternal relationship and attested to the preciousness of it to Him.
(ii) That God approved of His life: “well pleased”. We know so little of the preceding thirty years and yet we are sure that God delighted in every one of them.
THE CONCLUSIONS FROM HIS PRAYER
We might wonder what the Saviour actually prayed and what we might learn from this record. We suggest the following:
1. A Prayer of Thanksgiving
The thirty silent years were years that were not wasted. God drew delight, daily, moment by moment, from seeing the steps of the perfect Man.
2. A Prayer of Submission
As the Saviour steps out into the years of His public ministry He does so utterly submissive to God. This submission went on right to the end of that ministry, Lk.22.41,42.
3. A Prayer of Dependence
He could truly commit His ways to the Lord knowing that His path would be directed in all things.
Has it not always been true that God will take the righteous and the praying man and it is such that becomes the anointed and approved man in God’s service? The Saviour is the perfect example of this.
To be continued (D.V.)
THE GOOD SHEPHERD – JOHN CHAPTER 10
by Jeremy C. Gibson (England)
Shepherding was an integral component of the historical fabric of Israel. Her founding fathers, Abraham, Gen.24.35; Isaac, Gen.26.14; and Jacob, Gen.31.38-40; were all committed shepherds. Jacob often lost sleep and endured physical discomfort while caring for the sheep. When Israel, as a nation, departed from Egypt, it was with flocks and herds, Ex.12.32; just before entering Canaan, God promised to multiply their flocks if they obeyed Him, Deut.7.13. Some of Israel’s prominent leaders and prophets were prepared for God’s service while looking after sheep. Moses’ forty years of shepherding was ideal preparation for him to lead Israel out of Egypt and through the wilderness, Ex.3.1. It was Moses who recognised that after his death Israel would need another shepherd-like leader, Num.27.16,17. David, an outstanding king, was taken “from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, to be ruler over [God’s] people, over Israel” 2Sam.7.8. His experiences of fighting wild animals to defend his flock equipped him to fight the enemies of God’s people, 1Sam.17.34-36. It was while Amos was working as a shepherd that God called him to prophesy to Israel, Amos 7.15.
Israel’s religious leaders were also viewed as shepherds, though, sadly, mostly bad ones: “shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter” Isa.56.11. Because of their cruel and selfish treatment of the sheep God would punish and replace them, Jer.23.1-4; 25.34-38; 50.6; Ezek.34.1-10. As Israel’s true shepherd, Isa.40.11, Who in the past “leddest” and “guided them in the wilderness like a flock” Ps.77.20; 78.52, God will re-gather the nation to the Promised Land, Ezek.34.11-16. He will judge between the fat and the lean cattle, Ezek.34.17-22, and establish Messiah as their Shepherd-King, Jer.23.5; Ezek.34.23,24.
The Lord Jesus used the language of sheep and shepherds to summarise His own ministry to Israel, whom He viewed as sheep not having a shepherd, Matt.9.36; Mk.6.34; to anticipate blessings for Gentiles in the Church; and to depict His relationship with His saints. “Sheep” is an ideal description of Christ’s own. According to Mosaic Law, they are ceremonially clean. Unthreatening and vulnerable, sheep are dependent on their shepherd for guidance and protection. Although they are prone to wander, requiring constant care and attention, they recognise their shepherd’s voice.
The Pharisees had just expelled from the Jewish community the blind man whom Christ had healed, Jn.9.34. This excommunication was significant. “It included much more in it than merely prohibition to associate, with other Jews, in the worship of the synagogue. No one was allowed to teach, to speak to, to eat or trade with, the excommunicated individual; and he was regarded no longer as a member of the commonwealth of Israel, but as a heathen man and a publican.”1 Christ had entered the sheepfold, representing Judaism set apart from surrounding Gentile nations by God-given rules and ordinances. And He had entered in the right way: through the door, Jn.10.1,2. For instance, He was born to the right mother, Isa.7.14, in the right place, Mic.5.2, and at the right time, Gal.4.4. The porter who received Him was John the Baptist, Messiah’s faithful and self-effacing forerunner. Christ then exited the sheepfold, by way of rejection, Jn.10.3. At the same time He “putteth forth [ekballo, ‘to eject’2] His own sheep” from the narrow confines and the dead ritual of Judaism, bringing them into a living relationship with Himself, v.4; compare Heb.13.12,13. And so, when the Pharisees reviled and cast out the blind man they were actually fulfilling the Saviour’s purpose for him, Jn.9.28,34. The Lord Jesus also said, “I have other sheep which are not of this fold”: Gentiles; “and there shall be one flock”, not held together by an external code of conduct, but by the attractive power of “one shepherd” Jn.10.16, J.N.D.
- 1. Brown, J. “Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord”. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1990, 2:338.
- 2. Strong, J. “A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament; with their rendering in the authorized English version”. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, p.26.
“Thieves”, “robbers”, “strangers” and “hirelings” are all terms that depict false shepherds: in this context, the Pharisees. Thieves work in secret and robbers in gangs, vv.1,8,10. They are dangerous. They come “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” v.10. Israel’s ultimate false shepherd will be the antichrist, Zech.11.15-17. Working for wages alone, hirelings are not loyal to the sheep, vv.12,13. When wolves, picturing any dangerous enemy, compare Matt.7.15, threaten to forcibly catch and to scatter the sheep, hirelings flee. By way of contrast, true shepherds defend the flock against all adversaries, willingly endangering their own lives. As the good shepherd, this is exactly what the Lord Jesus did, vv.10,11,14-18. Perfectly obedient to His Father’s will, He voluntarily laid down His own life, so that His sheep could have abundant life. Again, in obedience to His Father, on the third day He raised Himself from the dead, vv.17,18. Such self-sacrificial care for God’s people should characterise elders in local assemblies, Acts 20.28. Godly leaders will “feed the flock of God which is among [them], taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind” 1Pet.5.2, and shield the flock, regardless of personal cost. Christ’s sheep recognise false shepherds as strangers, and flee from them, v.5. Knowing Christ, and being known by Him, the sheep gladly identify His voice as that of the true shepherd, vv.14,16. This mutual appreciation of Christ for His sheep, and His sheep for Him, reflects the intimacy found within the Godhead, v.15.
The Lord Jesus also described Himself as “the door”, vv.7,9. Entering through Him, the sheep find themselves in a sphere of safety, spiritual liberty and sufficiency. Anyone who enters in “shall be saved” v.9, eternally secure in the grasp of the Son and of the Father, Who gave them to the Son in the first place, and Who is Himself “greater than all” vv.28,29. The phrase “go in and out” is a Hebrew idiom for daily activities, Deut.28.6,19; 31.2; 1Sam.18.16; Ps.121.8; Jer.37.4; Acts 1.21; 9.28. It implies freedom of movement. There is sufficient “pasture” for the sheep, v.9. As David wrote, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters” Ps.23.1,2.
For the third time in John’s Gospel, men were divided because of Christ (the first is recorded in Jn.7.43, and the second in Jn.9.16), some accusing Him of demonic madness, others acknowledging that His words and works were inconsistent with demon possession, vv.20,21.
The second half of the chapter took place during “the feast of the dedication” vv.22-42. This was an eight-day feast that commemorated the purging of the temple under Judas Maccabaeus, after its defilement by Antiochus Epiphanes. The Jews again accosted Christ, this time accusing Him of ambiguity: “How long dost Thou make us to doubt? If Thou be the Christ, tell us plainly” v.24. His works, all Messianic miracles, were stamped with the Father’s authority and bore witness to Him and to His oneness with the Father. It was to these works that He appealed, vv.25,32,38. Fearlessly, He exposed the true character of the Jews: “ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep” v.26. His sheep know His voice, are known by Him, follow Him, and receive eternal life, vv.27-29. His claim to unequivocal equality with the Father (“I and My Father are one” v.30) so enraged the Jews that they sought to stone Him for blasphemy, vv.31,33. But their thinking was warped. He was not a man who had made Himself God, as they alleged; He was God, Who had added to eternal Deity spotless humanity. He countered their slanderous attack with the unbreakable words of Holy Scripture, v.35. Mere human judges in Israel, acting as God’s representatives and recipients of Jehovah’s words, were termed “gods” Ex.22.28; Ps.82.6. If this was the case, how could they justly accuse Him, Whom the Father had sanctified and sent into the world, of blasphemy because He said, “I am the Son of God” v.36? Silenced, their only answer was a foiled attempt “again to take Him” v.39. He withdrew to where John at first baptised, where many believed in Him, recognising that “all things that John spake of this man were true” vv.40-42.
Good Tidings from Heaven
It could be said, without fear of contradiction, that a substantial part of life is taken up with meetings. These may be unimportant or they could be life changing. We hear folks say, “We’ll meet to discuss it over a cup of coffee.” I heard one mother say to another, “It’s our son’s birthday on Saturday week and we’ll need to meet to arrange the catering.” Then some have seemingly endless meetings at work, reporting to different people about turnover, output, personnel difficulties, sick leave, etc. Perhaps an appointment to meet the doctor would be more serious. Taking another step up the ladder of importance, some say, “I had a scan last week and the oncologist wants to meet with my husband and me to discuss the results.” We can decide whether or not we will keep the appointment or we can change the date or time.
However, there is a meeting, an appointment, that we must keep and we have no input as to where or when. It is an appointment that God makes and it involves, not the passing moments of time, but the never-ending eons of eternity. Many mystical religions teach reincarnation, but God’s Word, the Bible, rejects such teaching, stating, “It is appointed unto men once to die.” Not twice or more. If death was the terminus and then we were annihilated, we need not worry, but Scripture goes on to state, “but after this the judgment” Hebrews 9.27. The solemnity of this has been revealed also by the Old Testament prophet, Amos. He taught that after death there is an appointment which we must keep: “Prepare to meet thy God” Amos 4.12. This meeting is in eternity but the preparation is in time. Such raises another question: “Why be concerned about this meeting? Is God not so loving and kind that He never would judge anyone?”
The problem is that God is holy and we are sinful, which means that we cannot be in God’s presence until our sins are all forgiven and we are reconciled to Him. Note the testimony of Scripture: “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” Habakkuk 1.13. How many of us are sinners? The Epistle to the Romans gives the answer: “For all have sinned” Romans 3.23; “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” Romans 5.12. How can sinful people have a righteous standing before God? The answer is found in the death of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” 1Peter 2.24. Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, taught that “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed” Isaiah 53.5.
- He took the guilty sinner’s place, and suffered in his stead;
- For man (O miracle of grace!), for man the Saviour bled.
As this article concludes, please note the solemn comparisons of the following meetings. For the Christian believer: “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” 1Thessalonians 4.17. For the unbeliever: “Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming” Isaiah 14.9. Dear reader, which meeting will you attend?
- “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” 2Cor.4.17
- Our little time of suffering is not worthy of our first night’s welcome home to Heaven.
A Proverb to Ponder
- “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.” Proverbs 10.19
- David writes of the great danger of careless talk in the presence of unbelievers: “I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me” Ps.39.1. This is vital, but much harm is done by talking too much in front of saints also. How easy it is to sin with our lips, and the more we say, the greater that danger is. If I am considering saying something, and have any doubt as to the wisdom of doing so, I should put the “bridle” to my mouth. James instructs us that one who is disciplined in what he says is also disciplined in a much wider sense: “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body” Jms.3.2. We do well to take heed to the counsel in the opening chapter of his Epistle: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak” Jms.1.19