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
Assembly Testimony Bible Class
by J. Riddle (England)
THE FIRST BOOK OF PSALMS
No.22: Psalm 17
This Psalm has been called, ‘A Prayer for Protection’. See vv.8,9: “Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me under the shadow of Thy wings, from the wicked that oppress me, from my deadly enemies who compass me about”. The words here, “who compass me about”, together with those in v.11, “they have now compassed us in our steps”, suggest an encircling enemy. Once again, we are given no further information, but there can be little doubt that the Psalm refers to the period in David’s life in which he was hunted by King Saul. See 1Sam.23.26 where, in “the wilderness of Maon” v.25, “David made haste to get away for fear of Saul: for Saul and his men compassed David and his men round about to take them”.
The Psalm may be divided as follows. David:
- appeals to God’s righteousness, vv.1-5
- appeals to God’s lovingkindness, vv.6-9
- describes his enemy’s wickedness, vv.10-12
- anticipates future blessedness, vv.13-15
HE APPEALS TO GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS – vv.1-5
David opens the Psalm by asking God to recognise his integrity and moral uprightness. His plea is genuine: it was not made with “feigned lips”, and he draws attention to his heart, v.3, his mouth, v.3, and his pathway, vv.4,5, in support of his cause. There are at least two things for emphasis in this opening section:
The Righteousness of God
“Hear the right, O LORD” v.1. This could be rendered: ‘Hear justice’ or ‘Hear righteousness’. (Notice his threefold plea: “hear … attend … give ear”). David stood before a perfect Judge, and could continue by saying, “Let my sentence [‘judgment’ or ‘right’] come forth from Thy presence” v.2. The apostle Paul displayed equal confidence in God’s perfect righteousness: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness [a rightly-adjusted crown of reward], which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day” 2Tim.4.7,8. We can confidently commit ourselves and our lives to God with the assurance that He will deal with us in perfect equity. Paul expressed his absolute trust in God in this way as follows: “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day” 2Tim.1.12. The difficulties of the Christian life must not make us doubt either the wisdom or the justice of God. We can rest our case with Him in complete confidence. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Gen.18.25. This may not be true of earthly judges, but it is certainly true of “the Judge of all the earth”. Now compare the judgment seat (bema) of Christ with Herod’s bema (“throne”), Acts 12.21; Gallio’s bema (“judgment seat”), Acts 18.17; Festus’ bema (“judgment seat”), Acts 25.6; and Caesar’s bema (“judgment seat”), Acts 25.10.
The Righteousness of David
Here is the other side of the coin. We can hardly expect God to vindicate us if there is nothing to vindicate. David could hardly have cried “Hear the right, O LORD” if he belonged to the category of person described by the Lord Jesus: “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. But David did not belong to that class at all: “Give ear unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips” v.1. (Compare “unfeigned faith” 2Tim.1.5; “love unfeigned” 2Cor.6.6; and “unfeigned love of the brethren” 1Pet.1.22). After all, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” Ps.66.18. But David could confidently call on God to scrutinise his life: “let Thine eyes behold the things that are equal” v.2. This does not, for one moment, suggest that David was sinless, but it does tell us that he submitted his whole life to the Word and will of God:
“Thou hast proved mine heart; Thou hast visited me in the night; Thou hast tried me, and shalt find nothing” v.3. The exposure of his inner life to God is even more emphatically expressed in the New Translation (J.N.D.): “Thou hast proved my heart, Thou hast visited me by night; Thou hast tried me, Thou hast found nothing”. This was the man who said, “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still” Ps.4.4. (See our notes on this Psalm). The heart is the source of word and deed: see Matt.12.34,35; 15.18,19. We need to put 1Pet.3.15 into daily practice: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts” or “But sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord” R.V. Look up 1Sam.16.7 and Heb.4.12,13.
“I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress” v.3. Compare Ps.16.4. Contrast Ps.12.1-4. This unlocks a vast number of relevant verses. For example, “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking” Eph.5.3,4; “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt” Col.4.6. Read James chapter 3 in its entirety. Remember that it was said of the Lord Jesus, “Never man spake like this man” Jn.7.46.
“Concerning the works of men, by the word of Thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer [the violent]. Hold up my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps slip not” vv.4,5. Notice where David did not walk: “the paths of the destroyer”. Notice where David did walk: “Thy paths“. But how did he do it? “By the word of Thy lips …” So his pathway was governed by the Word of God. But that was not all: “When Thou holdest my goings in Thy paths, my footsteps slip not” J.N.D. (Note, the R.V. translates rather differently here). So he was held by the power of God. We need God’s Word to guide us, and God’s power to keep us. Otherwise, we will lose our spiritual identity, and be submerged in “the works of men”.
HE APPEALS TO GOD’S LOVINGKINDNESS – vv.6-9
“I have called upon Thee, for Thou wilt hear me, O God: Incline Thine ear unto me, and hear my speech. Shew Thy marvellous lovingkindness” vv.6,7. “Shew wondrously Thy loving-kindnesses” J.N.D. The expression “shew wondrously” carries the thought of miraculous intervention. But it is not now intervention in righteousness, as in vv.1-5, but intervention in love. Recent scholarship suggests that the force should be ‘steadfast love’ with the idea of faithfulness to a covenant; ‘covenanting love’. See D. Kidner (Tyndale O.T. Commentaries). What does this love do?
His Love Saves
“Thou that savest by Thy right hand them which put their trust in Thee from those that rise up against them” v.7. We encountered the expression “right hand” twice in Psalm 16 (vv.8,11). In the current Psalm, the expression carries the idea of Divine power: see Exodus chapter 15: “Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power: Thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy … Thou stretchedst out Thy right hand, the earth swallowed them” vv.6,12.
This verse reminds us of the taunt at Calvary: “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him” Matt.27.43. But there was no deliverance for the Lord Jesus. Let us make the point again, that there may be no physical deliverance for us either. When Paul requested the Thessalonians to pray that “we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men” 2Thess.3.2, and stated that “the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom” 2Tim.4.18, he was referring to the spiritual damage that Satan would attempt to inflict on him through persecution, rather than the persecution itself.
His Love Keeps
“Keep me as the apple of the eye” v.8. This refers, not to the best apple in the orchard, but to the pupil of the eye. Compare Zech.2.8. The pupil is the most sensitive part of the human body, and therefore the ‘emblem of that which is tenderest and dearest, and therefore guarded with most jealous care’ (A.G. Clarke).
His Love Hides
“Hide me under the shadow of Thy wings” v.8. Deuteronomy chapter 32 associates the “apple of His eye” with the eagle spreading “abroad her wings” vv.10,11. This expression recalls Ps.36.7, “How excellent is Thy lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings”; Ps.57.1, “Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in Thee: yea, in the shadow of Thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast”; Ps.63.7, “Because Thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of Thy wings will I rejoice”; Ps.91.4, “He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust”; Ruth 2.12, “The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust”; Matt.23.37, “how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”. The language employed stresses the warmth and care that His protection brings.
HE DESCRIBES HIS ENEMY’S WICKEDNESS – vv.10-12
They are “deadly enemies” v.9. The world is full of them: see 1Jn.2.16. There is the “lust of the flesh“. Here it is: “They are enclosed in their own fat” v.10. There is the “lust of the eyes“. Here it is: “They have set their eyes bowing down to the earth” v.11. There is the “pride of life“. Here it is: “With their mouth they speak proudly” v.10. “Deadly enemies” indeed!
The first – “They are enclosed in their own fat” – probably refers to their self-indulgence. Rather like Eglon, the fat king of Moab, who had a “summer parlour … for himself alone” Judg.3.20. We must beware of that enemy. After all, in the words of 1Corinthians chapter 6, “ye are not your own … For ye are bought with a price” vv.19,20. The Lord Jesus “died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again” 2Cor.5.15.
The second – “They have set their eyes bowing down to the earth” or “they set their eyes to cast us down to the earth” R.V. – is a salutary reminder of what the “lust of the eyes” will do: it will bring us crashing down. Like David in 2Sam.11.2. This characteristic of the enemy reminds David of a relentless predator watching and waiting to pounce: “Like as a lion that is greedy of his prey, and as it were a young lion lurking in secret places”. There is, of course, another relentless predator with the same description: see 1Pet.5.8.
The third – “With their mouth they speak proudly” – reminds us of such passages as Jms.3.6, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” and 1Pet.5.5, “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble”. For an example of the former (“the proud”), see Lucifer in Isa.14.12-15. For the example of the latter (“the humble”), see the Lord Jesus in Phil.2.5-11.
HE ANTICIPATES FUTURE BLESSEDNESS – vv.13-15
The future of the righteous is contrasted with the future of the wicked.
They are destined for judgment. “Arise, O LORD, disappoint him, cast him down: deliver my soul from the wicked, which is Thy sword” v.13. The sense of “disappoint him” is really ‘confront, or forestall, him’. The sense of “which is Thy sword” is really, ‘by Thy sword’. The wicked will not attain his goal. He will endeavour to ‘cast down’ God’s servant, v.11, R.V., but will be himself “cast … down”. But, strangely enough, the wicked are also given what they want; but only in this life! “From men which are Thy hand, O LORD, [perhaps, ‘Deliver my soul … from men, by thy hand, O LORD, from men of the world’ R.V.] from men of the world, which have their portion in this life, and whose belly Thou fillest with Thy hid treasure: they are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes” v.14. But David anticipates something infinitely better than this life:
“As for me …” (Why not make a list of the ‘As for me’ references in Scripture?). Having spoken about the prospects of the “men of the world”, David turns to the prospect of the righteous:
- No Doubt: “I will … I shall”
- No Distance: “I will behold Thy face” – to behold a face requires close proximity
- No Defilement: “I will behold Thy face in righteousness“
- No Disappointment: “I shall be satisfied“
Just use this as an introduction to v.15: there is plenty more to enjoy!
To be continued (D.V.)
Traits of the Tribes
by Ian McKee, N. Ireland
LEVI – IN THE DIVIDED KINGDOM
After Solomon’s death the kingdom divided: the ten northern tribes being known as Israel, and the two southern tribes as Judah. This division posed a challenge for those of the tribe of Levi living in designated Levitical cities in the territory of the ten seceding tribes; because Israel soon adopted state idolatry. Loyalty to God and the house of the Lord prevails: “And the priests and the Levites that were in all Israel … left their suburbs and their possession, and came to Judah and Jerusalem” for they had been “cast … off from executing the priest’s office unto the LORD” 2Chr.11.13,14. Loyalty to God always makes significant personal demands.
The subsequent history of Levi is associated with Judah: “But as for us, the LORD is our God, and we have not forsaken Him; and the priests, which minister unto the LORD, are the sons of Aaron, and the Levites wait upon their business” 2Chr.13.10. While twenty kings ruled successively over Judah, only a minority were faithful to Jehovah. Although the source, context and dynamics of revival are not our subject, we should see how Levi supported revival in the reign of those kings obedient to God’s Word.
Levi in the Reign of Jehoshaphat
King Jehoshaphat sent Levites and priests, “And they taught in Judah, and had the book of the law of the LORD with them, and went about throughout all the cities of Judah, and taught the people” 2Chr.17.9. Primacy of the Word of God is essential for restoration and revival. “Moreover in Jerusalem did Jehoshaphat set of the Levites, and of the priests, and of the chief of the fathers of Israel, for the judgment of the LORD, and for controversies, when they returned to Jerusalem. And he charged them, saying, ‘Thus shall ye do in the fear of the LORD, faithfully, and with a perfect heart … Deal courageously, and the LORD shall be with the good’” 2Chr.19.8-11.
When Moab, Ammon and others invaded Judah, the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel, a Levite, who said: “Thus saith the LORD unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s” 2Chr.20.15. Confidence in God was rewarded, which enabled the Levites “to praise the LORD God of Israel with a loud voice on high” 2Chr.20.19.
Levi in the Reign of Joash
Levites participated in Joash’s revival during Jehoiada’s regency. First the wicked queen, Athaliah, must be overthrown, so the captains of hundreds “gathered the Levites out of all the cities of Judah” 2Chr.23.2. Precise roles and responsibilities were given to the priests and Levites, 2Chr.23.4,5. Prohibitions were also detailed, “But let none come into the house of the LORD, save the priests, and they that minister of the Levites; they shall go in, for they are holy” 2Chr.23.6. The Word of God and confidence in God must be accompanied by holiness of life if revival is to be secured and maintained.
Revival also requires purpose of heart. “And the Levites shall compass the king round about, every man with his weapons in his hand … So the Levites and all Judah did according to all things that Jehoiada the priest had commanded …” 2Chr.23.7,8. The rightful king, Joash, was enthroned, with Athaliah’s Baal worship expelled. Revival allowed reinstatement of Davidic “offices of the house of the LORD by the hand of the priests the Levites” and offerings “as it is written in the law of Moses” 2Chr.23.18. Revival always refreshes our perspective of our spiritual heritage and gives much joy. In such circumstances spiritual responsibilities are never duties!
However we encounter some lazy Levites. Joash wished to repair the temple, “And he gathered together the priests and the Levites, and said to them, ‘Go out unto the cities of Judah, and gather of all Israel money to repair the house of your God from year to year, and see that ye hasten the matter.’ Howbeit the Levites hastened it not. And the king called for Jehoiada the chief, and said unto him, ‘Why hast thou not required of the Levites to bring in out of Judah and out of Jerusalem the collection, according to the commandment of Moses the servant of the LORD?’” 2Chr.24.5,6. Revival always demands corrective action. Soon “the chest was brought unto the king’s office by the hand of the Levites, and … Thus they did day by day, and gathered money in abundance” 2Chr.24.11. Revival also leads to purposeful giving and repair of areas of former neglect.
Levi in the Reign of Hezekiah
Revival under Hezekiah again involved Levites. Hezekiah “brought in the priests and the Levites … and said unto them, ‘Hear me, ye Levites, sanctify now yourselves, and sanctify the house of the LORD God of your fathers, and carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place’” 2Chr.29.4,5. The Levites “sanctified themselves, and came, according to the commandment of the king, by the words of the LORD, to cleanse the house of the LORD. And the priests went into the inner part of the house of the LORD, to cleanse it, and brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the LORD into the court of the house of the LORD. And the Levites took it, to carry it out abroad into the brook Kidron” 2Chr.29.15,16. Every succeeding generation has a responsibility to search the Scriptures and bring conditions back, where necessary, to the Scriptural pattern. Cleansing was essential to restoration of temple worship, which again resulted in joy and praise, 2Chr.29.25-27,30.
Increased joy led to sacrifices in such numbers to overwhelm the functioning priests, “wherefore their brethren the Levites did help them, till the work was ended, and until the other priests had sanctified themselves: for the Levites were more upright in heart to sanctify themselves than the priests” 2Chr.29.34. Sanctified Levites were ready to serve at short notice, “for the thing was done suddenly” 2Chr.29.36. They were willing to accept additional responsibility when opportunity afforded. Are we?
Levites were similarly tasked when Hezekiah reinstated the Passover when “the Levites had the charge of the killing of the passovers for every one that was not clean, to sanctify them unto the LORD” 2Chr.30.15-17. This great day of revival led to joy and teaching: “and the Levites and the priests praised the LORD day by day … And Hezekiah spake comfortably unto all the Levites that taught the good knowledge of the LORD” 2Chr.30.21,22.
The experience was such that, exceptionally, it was repeated for another seven days: “And all the congregation … with the priests and the Levites … rejoiced … So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon … there was not the like in Jerusalem. Then the priests the Levites arose and blessed the people: and their voice was heard, and their prayer came up to His holy dwelling place, even unto heaven” 2Chr.30.25-27. Here revival resulted in joy and prayer.
Hezekiah then “appointed the courses of the priests and the Levites … every man according to his service … for burnt offerings and for peace offerings, to minister, and to give thanks, and to praise in the gates of the tents of the LORD” 2Chr.31.2. He commanded the inhabitants of Jerusalem “to give the portion of the priests and the Levites, that they might be encouraged in the law of the LORD” 2Chr.31.4. Firstfruit tithes were willingly brought in abundance: “And when Hezekiah … came and saw the heaps, they blessed the LORD, and His people Israel” 2Chr.31.8. The king commanded that chambers be prepared in the temple to store these offerings, tithes and dedicated things, with named Levites given specific responsibilities in receiving and storing these offerings, 2Chr.31.11-13. Giving by the Lord’s people must always be handled properly, and be seen to be so! Other named Levites were responsible for the proper distribution of the offerings, 2Chr.31.14,15. Shared responsibility, separate functions, supervision and audit, are all essential in relation to financial probity.
Interesting details are given in 2Chr.31.16-19: the genealogy of males in the tribe of Levi is now reckoned from three years old and upward. Every male child in this tribe, having survived the years of infant mortality, was intended to fulfil his Divine and tribal purpose to function in the service of God from twenty years of age. Surely our young people today should be exposed to sound teaching with a view to them being aware of God’s Word and expectations for their lives and service following salvation. How assemblies would be transformed if our children were all saved and living lives dedicated for God’s glory!
Levi in the Reign of Josiah
Levites are mentioned in connection with revival in Josiah’s reign when the temple was again repaired: “And when they came to Hilkiah the high priest, they delivered the money … which the Levites that kept the doors had gathered” 2Chr.34.9. Again we have Levite oversight of restoration work, “And the men did the work faithfully: and the overseers of them were [Levites, of the families of Merari and Kohath], to set it forward; and other of the Levites … were over the bearers of burdens, and were overseers of all that wrought the work in any manner of service: and of the Levites there were scribes, and officers, and porters” 2Chr.34.12,13.
Josiah’s reformation prioritised the Word of God. “And the king went up into the house of the LORD, and … the priests, and the Levites, and all the people, great and small: and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant that was found in the house of the LORD” 2Chr.34.30. The house prepared, the word pronounced, the Passover reinstated and the ark prominent: “And [Josiah] said unto the Levites that taught all Israel, which were holy unto the LORD, ‘Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon … did build; it shall not be a burden upon your shoulders: serve now the LORD your God, and His people Israel’” 2Chr.35.3,5.
Named Levites are responsible for the oversight of the Passover procedures, 2Chr.35.8-10. Other Levites are engaged in the arduous task of flaying the many animals offered, 2Chr.35.11. Only on completion of all their tasks, which lasted all day until night, were the Levites able to prepare “for themselves, and for the priests … the sons of Aaron” 2Chr.35.14. Many enjoying the privilege of Passover may have been unaware of the long strenuous hours of Levite service; however God recognised it and recorded it in His Word! Their labour was not wasted; it encouraged others, “And the singers … were in their place … and the porters waited at every gate … for their brethren the Levites prepared for them” 2Chr.35.15. Their hard work led to this assessment, “And there was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a passover as Josiah kept, and the priests, and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel that were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” 2Chr.35.18.
We all long for days of revival. Only God can grant it, but we can learn much from the complementary labours of Levi.
To be continued (D.V.)
by J. A. Davidson (N. Ireland)
DIVINE COMMENDATION OR CONDEMNATION?
“These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks” Rev.2.1.
Much can be spoken and written about local assembly conditions today which will be accepted or rejected as the opinion of the human speaker or writer. What really counts is the Divine assessment of the risen Lord, Who walks in the midst of the golden lampstands. We clearly observe that the
- Gospels prophetically announce the assembly
- Acts historically presents the assemblies
- Epistles doctrinally address the assemblies
- Book of Revelation Divinely examines the assemblies, Rev.1.12-3.22.
With such an emphasis it is not to be wondered at that we are enjoined, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches”.
DIVINELY CONSTRUCTED: “Golden”
John writes about seven literal, autonomous, golden lampstands which then existed in Asia. Each church of God, having been, “purchased with His own blood” Acts 20.28, was exceedingly precious.
DIVINELY CONNECTED: “Lampstand”
The word “lampstand” indicates that which depends on the flow of oil to give light. The oil is an illustration of the Holy Spirit. A lampstand is not self consuming as is a candle in a candlestick. The lampstand in the tabernacle gave light: “And thou shalt make the seven lamps thereof: and they shall light the lamps thereof, that they may give light over against it” Ex.25.37. The type speaks of the Person of Christ, central to the assembly. The lampstand also gave light to “the table of shewbread”. This speaks of the Provision of Christ in the fellowship of the assembly. The lampstand yielded fragrance. Incense arose as the priest dressed the lamps every morning. This is the Privilege of the assembly in the exercises of holy priesthood.
DIVINELY INSPECTED: “Who walketh in the midst of the seven golden lampstands”
The composition of each lampstand was “golden”. The character of each local church was “lampstand”. The care of each lampstand was priestly: counselling, correcting, comforting, chastening, challenging and soon-coming. To each of the seven churches He said, “I know”. He also said “I … know My sheep” Jn.10.14; “I know whom I have chosen” Jn.13.18; “I know thy works” Rev.2.2. Individual faithfulness, and corporate assembly “works” are alike known to the Lord of the churches. The Lord, the righteous Judge, has full knowledge, a perfect discernment and a complete assessment of local conditions. He is in the midst of the “two or three” locally. He is in the midst of the churches, holding each in His right hand. In Revelation His hand holds the stars, takes the scroll, breaks the seals in the time of judgment, puts in the sickle in the day of harvest, lifts the sword in the day of battle and will take the sceptre to reign supreme on the throne. In Revelation chapter 1 He is seen standing. In chapter 2 He is viewed holding and walking with Divine right to inspect.
Conditions in each church are “searched” in view of the Rapture and coming review at the Judgment Seat of Christ: “I will give unto every one of you according to your works” Rev.2.23.
Condemnation is given for unfounded claims: “apostles, and are not” Rev.2.2; “Jews, and are not” Rev.2.9; “prophetess” and is not, Rev.2.20; “name that thou livest” and do not, Rev.3.1; “rich …, knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” Rev.3.17.
Today, declining numbers in the assemblies have increased the danger of the reception to fill seats of those who profess to be saved and are not. Some also are received who profess to accept Scriptural truth yet soon manifest that they do not.
Often when someone has professed to be saved, and over a number of years has shown no desire for spiritual things, it is said that “they are still saved”. The teaching of the Word of God is quite clear on this important issue. Just as the rate of natural growth is different in individuals, so is the rate of spiritual growth. If life and appetite are evident, there will also be evidence of growth; God’s salvation has changed them. However, it is not possible to be saved if there is no manifestation of spiritual life. Let us ensure that our gospel preaching makes this quite clear. A person who is indwelt by the Spirit of God, a new creature in Christ Jesus, will grow in appreciation of the Word of God.
To each of the churches the Lord is seen in His relevant revelation and, where possible, commendation is given.
Ephesus, Rev.2.1-7 – the Fallen Church
Having abandoned their first love, they had fallen into legal orthodoxy. He reveals Himself, “in the midst”, supporting. The overcomer is promised “The tree of life”.
Smyrna, Rev.2.8-11 – the Fearful Church
Suffering persecution and even martyrdom for their loyalty to Him, He has nothing but commendation and encouragement that, though faithful unto death, they “shall not be hurt of the second death”. He is revealed as “the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive”.
Pergamos, Rev.2.12-17 – the Faltering Church
He is revealed as having “the sharp sword with two edges”. They had some who were guilty of worldly alliance, holding the doctrine of Balaam. Some were eating things offered to idols but the overcomer would “eat of the hidden manna”.
Thyatira, Rev.2.18-29 – Fornication
“The Son of God, who hath His eyes like unto a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass” commends their works, and charity, and service, and faith, and patience, before condemning the seductive evil of Jezebel. Yet, even in Thyatira, there was a faithful remnant to which He says, “Hold fast till I come”.
Sardis, Rev.3.1-6 – the Formal Church
Sardis was marked by ecclesiastical corruption. “These things saith He that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead”. Sardis gives a picture of saints who were motionless, sermons that were powerless; they had service but deadness. They had “things which remain, that are ready to die”. The promise to the overcomer was that “I will confess his name before My Father”.
Philadelphia, Rev.3.7-13 – Feeble But Faithful
To this church it is all commendation. To the remnant testimony at Philadelphia He fittingly reveals Himself as “He that is holy, He that is true” with the promise, “Behold I come quickly”.
Laodicea, Rev.3.14-22 – The False Church
Marked by insipid liberalism, this church was so nauseous to Him that He says, “I will spue thee out of My mouth”. Yet He stands at the door and knocks, inviting the remnant to “sup with” Him and promises the overcomer that he will “sit with Me in My throne”. This commendation could lift us no higher: to sup with Him now, to sit with Him then, to share His throne. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches”.
Comfort for Christians in a Changing World
by Roy Reynolds (N. Ireland)
I am a stranger and a sojourner. Genesis 23.4
The pilgrim character of God’s people is emphasised again and again in Scripture. We should ever be aware of the hostility of this world and realise that we are passing through enemy territory.
Sadly, we often feel so much at ease here, because of our carnality and materialism and we lose sight of our heavenly citizenship.
Abraham, who spoke those words from Genesis chapter 23, saw the God of glory and His eyes were blinded to all the attractions and allurements of this transient world. He left friends and family and crossed the river Euphrates for “the better land”, without as much as a backward glance. Such was the sight that won his heart that earthly scenes could no longer satisfy his soul.
May we too grow more homesick for heaven and be able to say with greater sincerity, as did the Psalmist, “I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” Ps.23.6
- We are but strangers here, we do not crave
- A home on earth which gave Thee but a grave;
- Thy cross has severed ties which bound us here,
- Thyself our treasure in a brighter sphere.
… the work of Thy fingers. Psalm 8.3
Words formed worlds; unaided, the Lord created everything from nothing; unlimited His power and inscrutable His wisdom. That mighty and majestic work of astounding magnitude was but the work of His fingers; it did not even require Him to leave His throne. His universe has since hung in total dependence upon the faithful Creator’s never-weakening arm.
Our salvation could not be effected so easily; the solution to the problem of sin proved most costly. The fearful price God’s righteousness and justice demanded will be on display forever in the nail-pierced hands of our Redeemer.
Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, Gethsemane and Golgotha rehearse the story of the boundless love and amazing grace that brought Him down and led Him on to the tree of shame to be “wounded for our transgressions” and “bruised for our iniquities”.
- By His own word the worlds were framed;
- He made the stars and each He named;
- But to save me, to earth He came,
- Endured the cross and bore the shame.
NOTES ON THE PRISON EPISTLES
By Alan Summers (Scotland)
Paper 6 – EPHESIANS CHAPTER ONE
Summarising Ephesians chapter one is not easy. The truths it teaches are not simple to define or explain. One way of setting about the task of studying the chapter is to work out what it is not.
WHAT IT IS NOT
It Is Not Direction for Everyday Living
This is apparent when we contrast it with, for example, the final chapter of Ephesians. Ephesians chapter 6 is rooted in the present and focussed on the concerns of everyday life. Ephesians chapter one spans eternity and is absorbed with positional and spiritual issues.
It Is Not Disputation with False Teachers
Often when Paul writes he is seeking to answer questions or correct errors. Thus First Corinthians is largely composed of Paul’s answers to questions the Corinthians had raised with him. But there is no trace of this in chapter one or for that matter the letter as a whole.
It Is Not Development of a Doctrinal Theme
In Romans he explains at length the relationship of the Law to the gospel and the role of Israel now that the gospel was being preached to the Gentiles. There are themes in Ephesians but they occur in subsequent chapters. Chapter one anticipates some of them but is not occupied with them.
What Is the Nature of the Chapter Then?
It seems to me that chapter one is principally worship, vv.3-14, and prayer, vv.15-22.1 While Christians still praise God and pray for His blessing, it is unusual for our praise and prayer to be committed to writing. In committing his worship and prayer to writing in this letter we get an insight into the heart and soul of the apostle. While instruction may not have been the primary purpose of these verses, they are rich in instruction.
1. Some of the material in ch.1 lies outside the boundaries of the worship and prayer, e.g. his greeting, vv.1,2, and a brief reference to their spiritual state, 1.15.
The theme of praise is stated at the outset. Paul refers to the Ephesians’ “spiritual blessings” 1.3. This gives us an immediate insight into the character of the chapter. Many blessings from God are physical and material. Israel was blessed with a land and harvests and oftentimes deliverance from their enemies but the blessings the Ephesians had received were “spiritual”. In other words they were not visible or tangible. While Israel undoubtedly had spiritual blessings the majority of them were physical. In contrast the Church’s blessings were spiritual. That said, the spiritual blessings of the present would become the tangible blessings of the future. Thus he writes to them about their sanctification and adoption as sons, 1.4,5, their “redemption” and “forgiveness” 1.7. He also mentions their “inheritance” 1.11. The fulness of redemption and the appropriation of our inheritance is still future, 1.14, but that does not mean that we do not have a present enjoyment of and entitlement to these blessings.
In the prayer no one is mentioned by name. He does not refer to his imprisonment or pray for personal problems. He prays instead that they might have two key blessings: understanding and power. First of all he deals with their need for understanding. His desire is that they might have “wisdom” and “revelation” or enlightenment, 1.17. He prays that they might have “knowledge” and “understanding” 1.18. If the Ephesians truly understood what their “hope” was, 1.18, other matters that troubled them would fall into perspective. If they had a deeper personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus their lives would be different. If they understood the glory that awaited them when they received their inheritance that would be a preservative against many false hopes and aspirations here on earth. So we can see that while specific prayer is a good thing, since it requires us to say exactly what we feel and state exactly what we need, general prayers are equally vital. If the apostle’s prayers were answered the lives of the saints would have been transformed and prayers born of failure and misunderstanding would never need to be uttered.
God’s power is an amazing thing, 1.19. It created the universe. It holds all things together. Yet the most amazing of all is that it raised the Lord Jesus from the dead. Now while God’s power to impart life is well attested in Scripture, this was a different case. In raising up Christ, God was defying the power of the devil. He not only restored the Lord’s human life but He supplied a new glorified existence. He not only placed Him back on the earth but He raised Him up to heaven. The One Who is now far above all “principality and power”, that is, all angelic beings, 3.10; 6.12, is the Head of the Church. So we are linked to One Who enjoys supreme authority and exercises mighty power.
We have noticed that the chapter speaks of our “spiritual blessings”, but the apostle goes on to add that these blessings are “in heavenly places” 1.3. Does this mean that none of the blessings can be enjoyed until we get to heaven? I suggest that there is an element of truth in that. These blessings will be enjoyed to the fullest extent in heaven, but these are still blessings we enjoy in the present, 2.6. Paul writes as if God’s purpose in taking the saints to heaven was already accomplished. Thus what we will realise actually when we are raised to sit with Christ we can appropriate spiritually in the present. The other aspect of the verse is that the blessings are “in heavenly places” because they stem from there. Thus although they may be enjoyed here on earth they come from Christ Who is enthroned in heaven.
Paul tells the Ephesians that they have been “chosen” and “predestined”. The choice of the saints was made “before the foundation of the world”, that is, before the events described in Gen.1.1 occurred. The word “predestine” likewise encapsulates the idea of a purpose that was formed beforehand which God will bring to pass. That purpose crystallised when the Ephesian Christians were “adopted” and entered the family of God. This focus on God’s eternal purpose may be to show that God was not like the gods that the Ephesians had served before their conversion. Diana and the other gods of the Greek pantheon were capricious whereas God has settled and immutable purposes that cannot be thwarted.
What had God chosen them for? The passage tells us that He chose them so that they would (one day) be “holy and without blame”. The words “holy” and “without blame” refer to the same idea first from a positive and then a negative standpoint. The idea that believers are holy has already been mentioned at the start of the chapter where they are described as “saints” 1.1, or ‘holy ones’. The same phrase re-occurs in 5.27 when Paul writes of the presentation of the Church to Christ after the Rapture.2 While no doubt part of the reason God chose the Ephesians was so that in their daily living they would exhibit a holy character, the words “in His sight” are used in a similar context in Colossians to refer to the day of presentation, Col.1.22. This would suggest that personal holiness in the present is not in view.3 Holiness, whether positional or practical, is an aspect and consequence of salvation. When God saved us we were “sanctified”. If we had not been sanctified we would not have been saved, 1Cor.1.2; 6.11. Adoption as sons takes place on salvation and like sanctification is a feature of salvation, Rom.8.15; Gal.4.5. Paul never seeks to explain how God’s choice and predestination of the believer can be reconciled with the personal faith of the believer in God. As the latter part of the chapter shows Paul is very clear that no one is saved without personal trust in Christ, 1.12,13,15,19. While some have sought to say that they could not believe if God had not first chosen and predestined them, that is to go further than Scripture states. Nowhere is God’s choice said to be a precondition of human choice. Equally God’s choice is never said to depend on man’s choice. How it can be that Divine choice and personal choice are simultaneously true is a matter that must be left to God.
- 2. “Holy and without blemish” is the same as “holy and without blame” in the original text.
- 3. The parallel wording in Colossians is persuasive because Colossians was written contemporaneously with Ephesians and may therefore be thought to be a good guide to meaning. In Jude 24 κατενώπιον refers to our ultimate presentation to Christ in God’s presence. By contrast “before” or “in the sight of” in 2Cor.2.17 refers to our daily walk.
Sometimes as Christians we ‘don’t know our place’. We are inclined to think that we have a hold on God and that He must do as we ask. We sometimes look at Him through resentful eyes when things do not go as we would wish. The chapter refers to God’s will on a number of occasions and shows that His will is paramount and that our will should be submissive to His. His will expressed itself in the appointment of Paul to apostleship, 1.1, and the appointment of believers to holiness and sonship, 1.3,4, as well as an inheritance, 1.11. God’s will is not capricious or arbitrary but kind, 1.9. Nothing is outside His will, 1.11, He “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will”. He may conceal His will however, and then reveal it at the time of His choosing, 1.9. Thus whatever we make of God’s choices we can never charge God with being unfair or heartless. His will is actuated by His grace, 1.6. Grace is that Divine quality that gives us what we do not deserve in contrast to mercy that withholds what we do deserve.
To be continued (D.V.)
by Ian Steele (Scotland)
Paul was ever wary of introducing human wisdom into the things of God. In 1Cor.2.4,5 he states that his “preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” What he would not do in Corinth he seeks to prevent others from doing at Colosse!
We must remember that the wisdom of men is foolishness with God and must be discarded. Human wisdom would rob Christ of His personal glory and deny His absolute Deity. Human wisdom would also dispense with the cross work of the Lord Jesus and relegate His bodily resurrection to the realms of the impossible.
No wonder Paul writes, “Beware!”
Complete in Him
Paul warns against the tactics of the false teachers in v.8. The idea of “spoil” is to make a prey of you and the bait they use is to deceive through human philosophy and human traditions, which are established on the elementary principles of this world. Philosophy is the love of wisdom and given that Paul has already informed them in v.3 that all the treasures of wisdom are found in Christ, that ought to have been sufficient to safeguard them against the error. In 1.19 Paul has stated that Divine fulness was pleased to dwell in Him; now, in 2.9, he affirms that all the fulness of the Godhead subsists bodily in Him. The word “Godhead” is not just referring to the attributes of God (compare Rom.1.20), but that all that the Godhead is in essence and the Divine personality dwells bodily in Christ. Note the present tense “dwelleth” is used here to emphasise that this is an eternal unchanging truth! “Ye are complete in Him” means to be filled up, made full, with the fulness of Christ. This does not mean that the fulness of the Godhead dwells in us – that is true of Christ alone – but that, in Christ, we have all that we need in order to live the Christian life, without any need for the spurious things that false teachers were trying to introduce. Paul asserts that Christ is the Head of all angelic rule and authority, showing His supremacy over them.
In v.11 Paul speaks of spiritual circumcision, which is different from the physical rite practised in Judaism. Man has no part in it at all, as it is accomplished by Christ and our position in Him makes it good to us at conversion. It involves the body of the flesh being stripped off in the cutting off of Christ in His death at the cross. “Body of the flesh” (note “sins of” should be omitted) refers to the body conditioned by our evil fallen nature. God has dealt with our evil state as man in the flesh through our association with the death of Christ.
Two further steps are emphasised through the symbolism of baptism, namely that we were buried and raised together with Christ. Note that this (baptism) is also a demonstration of our faith in what God has done in raising Christ from the dead. Those who were dead in their trespasses and who pursued the unrestrained passions of the flesh have now, in association with Christ, been made alive by God, Who has also freely forgiven them. So in Christ we are made alive and enjoy forgiveness and all our indebtedness to God is blotted out. The demands of the full penalty of the ordinances of the Law, which we were unable to meet, have been forever removed through the work of Christ at the cross. There was an unseen battle at Calvary, against Satan and the hosts of hell. These rulers of the darkness were spoiled by the mighty Victor Who exhibited His power over them through the glorious triumph of His cross. This conflict with infernal foes was envisaged in Ps.22.21 in the cry from the cross, “Save Me from the lion’s mouth: for Thou hast heard Me from the horns of the unicorns.” God surely heard that cry and every last foe was soundly defeated, publicly disgraced and dispatched back into the darkness from whence they came.
Well might we repeat the refrain of Moses and the children of Israel in Ex.15.1: “I will sing unto the LORD, for He hath triumphed gloriously”.
The danger in this passage is being deceived to accept something less than what God has given us in Christ.
There may have been some excitement and appeal about worshipping angels but that can never compare to the thrill in our souls of being in vital union with the living Head, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Many people today have nothing and no one to hold onto. Praise God, we have the risen Christ.
Ritual and rules will only relegate us to the shadows and ultimately bring ruin. Christ unites us and nourishes us and brings us into an atmosphere of love that encourages growth and development for our mutual benefit.
Christ is the Substance
It has already been pointed out that there were elements of Jewish tradition mixed into the dogma of the false teachers. In this passage Paul warns against allowing anyone to pass judgment on them by imposing rites and rituals governed by their self-imposed regulations. Diet, days, food, festivals and the like were no longer necessary in Christianity. These belonged to the types and shadows of the Old Testament times, Heb.8.5; 10.1, but now Christ, the antitype, has come. Going back to shadows would be a denial of the all-sufficiency of Christ! Paul tells them not to allow this to happen. The word “beguile” in v.18 means to decide against so as to rob of the prize.
The false premise was that, since the Colossians were not following the rules of the false teachers, then they were unworthy and therefore disqualified. The false teachers professed humility by insinuating that they were too insignificant to directly approach God and so worshipped angels, who would act as intermediaries for them. It would seem that the false teachers also claimed and took the stand that they had received visions. However this was without substantiation and was the result of inflated pride due to a mind puffed up by the flesh.
The Function of the Headship of Christ
This is explained in v.19. It is clear the false teachers had no grasp of the Head and consequently were not part of the body. It is the members of the body who hold fast to the Head. There is vital union with Him indicated by the use of the illustrative joints and uniting bands. From the Head also a full supply of nourishment is ministered to all the members of the body. The result is that there is growth and development in the body according to the increase that God would give.
Thus we are completely dependent upon Christ our Head and we have a healthy inter-dependence with other members of the body.
The Implications of Having Died with Christ
Paul has revealed in the Roman epistle that believers died to sin, Rom.6.2, and have died to the Law, Rom.7.4, but now here he states that we have died to the elements of the world. Sin is no longer a dictator over us and the Law’s demands no longer apply when we have died. Likewise the elementary principles of the world do not determine the lifestyle of the believer. Worldly ordinances would place restrictions to tell us what not to touch or taste or handle, v.21. The implication is that if certain foods were refused, the body would be better governed and they would become more spiritual. Paul dismisses this as also did the Lord Jesus in Matt.15.17: “Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is passed out into the draught?” Paul says these are just the commands and teachings of men!
Summing up in v.23, Paul is scathing. Their wisdom is just outward show, the worship they engage in is inferior, their humility is not real and their imposed rituals to govern the body have no spiritual value at all. Indeed all of that only serves to indulge the flesh!
It would be far better to embrace the substance of all we have in Christ and to hold fast to Him. Are we holding on to Him?
To be continued (D.V.)
Good Tidings from Heaven
The Last Casualty
World War I ended exactly one hundred years ago. The Armistice was signed early in the morning of 11 November 1918, and came into effect a few hours later, at 11a.m. Sadly, several thousand combatants, from both sides, were killed during that short time interval. The last was a soldier called Henry Gunther, who died only one minute before the 11 o’clock deadline. Acting against orders, he charged with his bayonet towards a group of soldiers on the opposing side, who knew that the ceasefire was about to come into force, and tried to wave him off. However he kept approaching, firing shots, so he was shot, and died instantly.
When I heard that story, I felt sad, to think of one who perished, just seconds away from safety. It also reminded me of many people today, who perish in their sins, even though salvation is within their reach. Gunther had been in danger. All around him, many had gone out suddenly into eternity, and at any moment the same could have happened to him. How true that is regarding the souls of men and women. “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. Death is an ever-present reality, and could come to any of us, anytime.
He and his colleagues had heard good news: the war was over, and all they had to do was wait for the hour of peace to arrive. As far as the terrible problem of human sin is concerned too, there is good news for you: the battle is over. By His death at the cross Christ defeated “him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” Hebrews 2.14. He “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” Hebrews 9.26. He said, “It is finished” John 19.30.
Henry Gunther died that day because he disobeyed orders. He is like many people, who perish because they refuse to obey God, Who “now commandeth all men everywhere to repent” Acts 17.30; “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” Acts 3.19. A terrible end, eternal fire, awaits “them that obey not the gospel of God” 1Peter 4.17.
Gunther had recently been demoted, and some felt that, in acting as he did, he was trying to ‘redeem himself’ before his fellow-soldiers. Of course, it was in vain. Likewise, we cannot ‘redeem ourselves’ from our sins: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” Ephesians 2.8,9.
Please do not perish needlessly as Henry Gunther did. Be wise, and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, today: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” John 3.36.
A Proverb to Ponder
“Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: Bind them about thy neck; Write them upon the table of thine heart” Proverbs 3.3
- Our God is a God of mercy and truth. “For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations” Ps.100.5. The faithfulness thus described, seen in perfection in Him, should be true of all those who profess to be His. We read, of Hosea’s day, that “the LORD hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land” Hos.4.1. We must never allow mercy or truth to depart from us. “Bind them about thy neck” gives the outward aspect: they are to be fastened, never to be removed, and ever to be in evident display. “Write them upon the table of thine heart” indicates the inward side: they are to be indelibly inscribed, so that they characterise us, governing every motive, and controlling every area of our lives.
Making it easy
“Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation” 1Pet.2.12
The Christian is a person who makes it easy for others to believe in God.
Robert Murray McCheyne
“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” Gal.6.14
Be not proud of race, face, place, or grace.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
“God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Acts 2.36
Peter is not saying that Jesus became “Lord and Christ” at His ascension, for He has ever been so; for example, at His birth the angels told the shepherds of “a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” Lk.2.11. Rather, he is impressing on his hearers that God’s view of Him contrasts with theirs. The “ye” is emphatic: you, the citizens of Jerusalem, rejected His claims to Deity and Messiahship, and declared and demonstrated your view of Him by crucifying Him. However, God has declared that very same One to be Lord and Messiah, and has demonstrated that He is, by exalting Him to His right hand. You raised Him up on a cross; God raised Him to His own right hand.
The world still rejects His claims, but that does not alter the reality: He is “both Lord and Christ”, and we know that from the very highest authority: He is “by the right hand of God exalted” v.33. We happily rest, not on the opinions of men, but on God’s Word.
- Behold the Man upon the throne!
- Both Lord and Christ is He alone.
- (Hannah K. Burlingham)