ASSEMBLY TESTIMONY BIBLE CLASS
by J. Riddle
TRAITS OF THE TRIBES
by I. McKee
DISCIPLINE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD
by T. Wilson
by J.A. Davidson
by A. Leckie
THE GREAT KING
by W.C. Lavery
TEMPLE AT TWELVE
by J. Gibson
by J. Riddle (England)
No.15: PSALM 12, Part 1
You can hardly read Psalms 10-13 without realising that they have a great deal in common. They all commence with trouble:
Psalm 10.1: “Why standest Thou afar off, O LORD? why hidest Thou Thyself in times of trouble?”
Psalm 11.1: “In the LORD put I my trust: how say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain?”
Psalm 12.1: “Help, LORD; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men”.
Psalm 13.1: “How long wilt Thou forget me, O LORD? For ever? How long wilt thou hide Thy face from me?”
There seems to be a sequence doesn’t there? In Psalm 10, David feels that there’s no Divine intervention; in Psalm 11, there’s no good advice; in Psalm 12, there are no reliable friends; and in Psalm 13, there’s no Divine interest. However, that’s not the only thing that these four Psalms have in common. They all exhibit trust in God, and you can trace this in each Psalm yourself.
The title of the Psalm 12 is: “To the chief Musician upon Sheminith, A Psalm of David”. J.M. Flanigan (What the Bible Teaches) comments as follows: “There are some expositors and commentators; Thirtle, Scofield, the Companion Bible, and a later writer, A.G. Clarke, who believe that the superscript of a Psalm may in fact be a subscript of the preceding Psalm. Most commentators do not agree with this proposition, preferring to follow the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint, understanding the superscriptions to be indeed titles, as indicated in the A.V., J.N.D., R.V., R.S.V. and Spurrell, with others”. This is the first of fifty-five Psalms committed to the care of the Chief Musician, who was evidently David’s Director of Music. “Sheminith” means “the eighth” or “an octave”.
Psalm 12 is unusual. We don’t leave the Psalm with a shout of triumph ringing in our ears. The confidence is certainly there alright, but the Psalm actually ends with David’s enemies in the ascendancy – well, apparently so: “The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest of men are exalted” v.8. It seems a rather despondent note on which to end, but perhaps there’s a reason.
Quite obviously, there are two major divisions in this Psalm: i) the prayer for help, vv.1-4, and ii) the promise of help, vv.5-8.
THE PRAYER FOR HELP – vv.1-4
The Lord Jesus taught that “men ought always to pray and not to faint” Lk.18.1. David could have sunk in despair at the situation, but he cries to God: “Help, LORD” v.1. Daniel could have succumbed to pressure, but he “went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime” Dan.6.10. Like David and Daniel, Paul stood alone: “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me”. This did not crush his confidence in the Lord: “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me and strengthened me … and the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” 2Tim.4.16-18. David cried to God for help for two reasons:
The Decline of the Godly – v.1
“Help, LORD: for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men”. Have you ever noticed the reduction of numbers in Revelation chs.2-3? “But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine …Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments … Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice” Rev.2.24; 3.4,20. It’s worth noticing that David refers here to “the godly man” and to “the faithful”. They are in short supply: in fact, there just didn’t seem to be any around at all. Paul must have felt very much the same when he wrote: “all they which are in Asia be turned away from me” 2Tim.1.15.
Let us make two observations:
Cultivate and value the friendship and fellowship of godly and faithful Christians. They are people who have a right attitude towards God, and a right attitude to the Word of God. They won’t be like the people described in vv.2-4, that’s for sure. They’ll be in the minority, that’s also for sure. There are plenty of professing Christians around who are neither godly nor faithful.
If you ever find yourself in a desperate situation like David, don’t ‘throw in the towel’. Remember that “the eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and His ears are open unto their cry” Ps.34.12. So, “Help, LORD”.
The Speech of the Godless – vv.2-4
People said to Peter, “thy speech bewrayeth thee” Matt.26.73. (No, it’s not a wrong spelling!). Well, the speech of the people in vv.2-4 certainly betrayed them. Doctors used to say, ‘Let me see your tongue’. The state of the tongue is evidently a good index to general health. It is certainly a pretty good guide to spiritual health. Hence the teaching in James chapter 3. Now look at this section of the Psalm, but before you nod and say ‘typical of the world’, how about running the rule over your speech?
There are five things to check:
Are We Guilty of VANITY When We Speak? “They speak vanity every one with his neighbour” v.2. Empty talk. What do we talk about? We would be strange people if we never laughed, joked or teased one another, but what do we love to talk about? How about this? “Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon His name” Mal.3.16. You don’t have to be told what they talked about; just notice what they thought about! They “thought upon His name”. John reminds us that “the world passeth away” 1Jn.2.17. Its entertainment, sports – World Cups, the lot! We belong to another world.
However, the word “vanity” could be translated “falsehood” (see J.N.D. and footnote). See Eph.4.25, “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another”. That includes half-truths and exaggeration.
Are We Guilty of FLATTERY When We Speak? “With flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak. The LORD shall cut off all flattering lips” vv.2,3. We would call it ‘smooth talk’. That is really what the word means in Hebrew. As D. Kidner (Tyndale OT Commentaries) observes, it is “all the deadlier for the pleasure it gives”. The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about flattery. Here are some examples: “discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee … to deliver thee from the strange woman, even from the stranger which flattereth with her words” 2.11,16; “Say unto wisdom, Thou art my sister; and call understanding thy kinsman; that they may keep thee from the strange woman, from the stranger that flattereth with her words” 7.4,5; “A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin” 26.28. So beware if you are on the receiving end of flattery! Here is something far better: “He that rebuketh a man (as Paul did in speaking to Peter: Gal.2.14) afterwards shall find more favour (as Paul did from Peter: 2Pet.3.15, than he that flattereth with his tongue” Prov.28.23. Paul was not given to it. See 1Thess.2.5: “For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness”. Flattery is a form of lies, and people use it to enlist support or to gain advantage. It is highly significant that it is connected with “a double heart”: “With flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak” v.2.
To be continued, (D.V,)
by Ian McKee, N. Ireland
REUBEN – THE TRIBE
We have considered “Reuben – the man”; and it is to the history of his tribe that we now turn.
REUBEN – IN THE WILDERNESS
The children of Reuben “from twenty years old and upward”, counted on “the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt” totalled 46,500 males and were ranked the seventh tribe in numerical strength, Num.1.1-3,20,21. So already Jacob’s prophecy: “thou shalt not excel” Gen.49.4, is being fulfilled. When the census was taken again, on the borders of the land, less than forty years later, Reuben’s strength had declined to 43,730 and the tribe then ranked ninth, Num.26.7.
During the wilderness experience Reubenites were complicit in the serious challenge against the authority of Moses and Aaron and, hence, against Divine rule in Israel. Korah, of the tribe of Levi, supported by Dathan and Abiram of the tribe of Reuben, and “two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown” sought to overthrow God’s order amongst His people, Num.16.1,2. Their catchphrase “all the congregation are holy, every one of them” Num.16.3, infers the movement had a democratic and congregational manifesto. However, the fact that two of the three named conspirators were Reubenites suggests an attempt to regain the leadership and priesthood, which had been forfeited as a result of Reuben’s sin, Gen.35.22; 49.4. The rebellion resulted in the death of the three principal conspirators and the two hundred and fifty princes. In addition, the wives, sons and little children of Dathan and Abiram also perished by going down live into the pit, and 14,700 died in the plague that followed the resultant murmuring against Moses and Aaron, Num.16.49. The turbulent temperament evidenced by their tribal head had again manifested itself with devastating consequences.
The tribe of Reuben encamped in the south side of the tabernacle with the tribes of Simeon and Gad, a combined host of 151,450 under the standard of the camp of Reuben, Num.2.10-17. When the camp moved, the three tribes under Reubenite leadership moved in the second rank behind Judah, Issachar and Zebulun and the tabernacle, borne by the sons of Gershon and Merari, Num.10.13-20. The Kohathites “bearing the sanctuary” followed Reuben, Simeon and Gad, Num.10.21.
The proximity of Reuben to the tabernacle when on the move may have led to a casual familiarity with holy things, which could have been a contributory factor to the rebellion of Dathan and Abiram. That is a salutary warning. God will ever protect the integrity of His rule and the sanctity of holy things from any profane, carnal or casual intrusion: “For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” 1Cor.11.30.
The tribe of Reuben, with Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh, also fell short of God’s intention for them in the land. They “had a very great multitude of cattle: and … saw the land of Jazer, and the land of Gilead, that, behold, the place was a place for cattle” Num.32.1. So they requested permission to settle outside the promised land, on the east side of Jordan. While permission was granted, subject to their first supporting the conquest of Canaan, the lure of economic advantage robbed them of God’s portion in the land. We also need to take care that temporary material advantage does not lead to forfeiture of eternal spiritual reward. Otherwise it could be said of us, as was said of the children of Israel, “He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul” Ps.106.15.
Moses foretold that the tribe of Reuben (with Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali) would stand on barren mount Ebal to hear the curses of the law, Deut.27.13. Perhaps it was more needful for Reuben to hear the curses than the blessings?
There are four men of Reuben named in association with the wilderness wanderings. Elizur the son of Shedeur was the principal man of the Reubenites, Num.1.5;7.30;10.18. However, Shammua the son of Zaccur, Num.13.4, was their discouraging spy and, as we have seen, Dathan and Abiram were rebels.
REUBEN – MOSES’ PROPHETIC BLESSING
This makes Moses’ blessing in Deut.33.6 intriguing: “Let Reuben live, and not die; and let not his men be few”. There is no reference to earlier sin or temperamental instability. Moses desires the continuation of the tribe and that it should not be extinguished. He wanted each man to be numbered or accounted in the Divine reckoning. Each person has a God-given distinctiveness. What blessing there could be if each might yet fulfil their potential, and for us whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life there should be a desire for an intelligent understanding of God’s purpose for our own life and service. Moses evidently did not “write off” Reuben and we too should seek to promote the wellbeing and potential of each individual purchased at infinite cost.
REUBEN – IN THE LAND
When the children of Israel are about to enter the promised land Joshua reminds them of their promise made to Moses: “your wives, your little ones, and your cattle, shall remain in the land which Moses gave you on this side Jordan; but ye shall pass before your brethren armed, all the mighty men of valour, and help them …” Josh.1.14. What encouragement they must have given Joshua when they answered, “All that thou commandest us we will do, and whithersoever thou sendest us, we will go” Josh.1.16. Perhaps it was the tribe’s greatest day when “the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, passed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses spake unto them: About forty thousand prepared for war passed over before the LORD unto battle, to the plains of Jericho” Josh.4.12,13.
The tribe of Reuben received their requested portion east of Jordan and fully entered into it following the conquest of the land, Joshua chapter 12. Interestingly, there was a Reubenite at that time called Bohan whose name is associated with a stone that marked a boundary between Judah and Benjamin, Josh.15.6;18.17. What incident is commemorated is not revealed. But then, as now, there are people remembered for the deeds done in their lifetime. The record “on high” will retain each good deed in eternal memory.
The oration of Joshua when Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh were leaving to cross to the east bank of the Jordan to possess their requested inheritance is recorded in Joshua chapter 22. But how soon that event turned to potential disaster, when those tribes decided to build a great memorial altar without reference to Joshua or the tribes settling in the land? Again it seems that the tribal trait of Reuben for spontaneous activity, with the potential consequences not well thought through, was in play. Civil war almost resulted and it is to the credit of the other tribes that they fully investigated the matter and sought clarification before taking precipitate action.
The aversion of civil war enabled a city of refuge, Bezer, to be established in the territory of Reuben, Josh.20.8. Reuben had also Levite cities in its territory, Josh.21.7,36,37. The lessons from this are obvious. Strife among the Lord’s people, including that which may arise from misunderstandings, will limit potential in worship and service.
No Judges came from the tribe of Reuben, but in the days of Deborah and Barak the Reubenites again displayed characteristic instability. Following the call to battle against Sisera and the Canaanites we read, in Deborah and Barak’s victory song, “For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart. Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart” Judg.5.15,16. Reuben heard the call to arms and, evidently, their initial disposition was to respond. But then the bleating of their valuable sheep flocks was heard, which displaced their good intentions. They would have liked to support their brethren in battle against Sisera, but the sheep needed them, the timing wasn’t right and, after some recalculation and perhaps a lot of talk, the call of commerce drowned that of greater import. That Reubenite tendency remains to this present day characterised by the instinctive response, “it is not a good time”, whether to have a series of gospel meetings, ministry meetings, etc.
It is, however, good to note that when King David listed his worthy warriors, his mighty men, among them was “Adina the son of Shiza the Reubenite, a captain of the Reubenites, and thirty with him” 1Chron.11.42. At least Reuben produced one champion who, with his associates, stands in contrast to general Reubenite apathy. While one man and his troop of thirty stood with David in his rejection, 120,000 came from Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh to Hebron “with all manner of instruments of war” to make David King over all Israel, 1Chron.12.37. There were 2,700 “mighty men of valour … chief fathers” in these tribes in the fortieth year of the reign of David, 1Chron.26.31,32, and we have another Reubenite named in 1Chron.27.16, Eliezer the son of Zichri.
It wasn’t all defeat! They did at another time respond to the need of the hour: the 44,760 “sons of Reuben, and the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh, of valiant men, men able to bear buckler and sword, and to shoot with bow, and skilful in war” did win some battles “for they cried to God in the battle, and He was intreated of them; because they put their trust in Him” 1Chron.5.18,20. It is a pity that they had not learned to depend on God sooner and employ it consistently throughout their history.
The request to locate the tribe of Reuben on the east of Jordan had later consequences. Hazael, whom Elijah was commanded to anoint King of Syria, pursued territorial expansion against Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh by cruel means, “they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron” Amos 1.3; 2Kgs.10.32,33. Their exposed position on the east of Jordan meant that they could not withstand Hazael’s military incursion with its sadistic barbarity.
In 1 Chronicles we have restatements about the history of the nation and the tribes. And again Reuben’s sin with Bilhah and its consequences are reiterated: “Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but, forasmuch as he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright” 1Chron.5.1. We then read about Reubenites being taken captive by Tilgath-pilneser, King of Assyria: “and he carried them away, even the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, and brought them unto Halah, and Habor, and Hara, and to the river Gozan, unto this day” 1Chron.5.26.
REUBEN – THE FUTURE
Although Reuben ended in Assyrian captivity they are not a “lost tribe” unto God. They have their assurance of a portion in the future millennial kingdom, Ezek.48.6,7, with one of the three gates on the north side of Jerusalem bearing the name “Reuben” Ezek.48.31.
Also the tribe of Reuben will contribute 12,000 to the 144,000 servants of God, Rev.7.5, who “sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty thousand, which were redeemed from the earth … these are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth … and in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God” Rev.14.3-5. What a glorious ending to the history of the Reubenites!
In our next paper we shall consider James’ practical application in relation to Reubenite traits.
To be continued (D.V.)
by Tom Wilson (Scotland)
PAPER 2 – Part 2
DEALING WITH DOCTRINAL ERROR
THE FOUNDATION LAID IN THE NEW TESTAMENT EPISTLES
The importance of the apostles in laying the foundation for Christian life and practice in the New Testament cannot be underestimated. Firstly, we recognise that it was the Lord Jesus Himself Who called the apostles: Matt.10.1,2; Mk.6.30; Lk.6.13; Acts1.2,26; Eph.4.11. Not all of the apostles had a written ministry that has been preserved for us in the New Testament. Those with a written ministry were one channel through which the Lord Jesus provided sufficient guidance to enable assemblies to recognise and address instances of doctrinal error, whether that error was caused by an assembly’s lack of understanding of an epistle or the deliberate efforts of Satan himself through Judaisers, with their emphasis on the rituals of the Old Testament, or through Gnostic teachers, with their esoteric teachings, developed to undermine the truth we now have in the New Testament. Gnosticism’s emphasis was on knowledge, much of it based on Greek philosophy. We learn from Titus1.14 that one other source of doctrinal error was Jewish fables.
The Epistle to the Galatians is an apostolic letter opposing the pernicious attempts to impose the rituals of Judaism on an assembly of Christians. Paul’s letter to the Colossians revealed the inroads Gnosticism had been making. The heresy of the Gnostics sought to introduce reverence to angels and fear of astral powers; it also brought the denial of physical resurrection and other basic tenets of the Christian faith. Col.2.8-11 reveals how “through philosophy and vain deceit” teaching had been imbibed that made room for human (Gentile) traditions, and in so doing they were consciously demeaning Christ. They did not believe that they were “complete in Him, which is the head of all principality and power” v.10.
In the New Testament are books that were written to deal with specific doctrinal errors. Timothy was advised how to handle Hymenaeus and Philetus, who peddled the dangerous doctrine that the resurrection was “past already” with such devastating effect that they had overthrown the faith of some, 2Tim.2.17,18. When we read Paul’s question to the Corinthian Assembly, we know that he is addressing a doctrinal error of supreme importance: “How say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” 1Cor.15.12.
In the same letter, the apostle boldly addresses another vital issue: were some of their number defiling God’s temple, the assembly of God at Corinth, by introducing unholy practices, sins associated with the temple of Aphrodite? There were matters that a worldly-wise Corinthian would consider to be merely cultural, but among them were serious moral issues. There were those who were reluctant to turn away from sins that God had condemned in Sodom and Gomorrah. There was little realisation that God never intended that those who turn to Christ for salvation would remain shackled to destructive sins. They were slow to learn that: “the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” 1Cor.3.17. The corollary of that statement is in the same verse, and is a serious word of warning: “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy”.
Later in that same epistle, Paul warns that eating and drinking in remembrance must be preceded by the partaker examining himself, lest he eat and drink unworthily, 1Cor.11.28,29. Paul then adds what doubtless God had revealed to him: that lack of self- judgment was the cause of many being weak and sickly among them and many sleeping, that is, they had died. In his commentary, Vincent, noting the two different Greek words for “many” v.30, translates “many sleep” as “quite enough have died.” 1 Let writer and reader learn that cultural considerations dare not blind our eyes to the meaning of Scripture.
1. Vincent, M. R. “Word Studies in the New Testament Volume 3“.W.B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1980: p.253.
BUILDING ON THE FOUNDATION
Writing in a wider context, the apostle Paul reminds Gentile believers that they once were strangers and foreigners but now “are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets …” Eph.2.19,20. While the building here referred to is the Church, Eph.1.22,23, and not a local assembly, nonetheless, the Scriptures we have already considered show that discipline was an important part of the doctrinal foundation laid by the apostles and prophets. Such is the holiness of God that He will maintain His honour, for He is a holy God.
Two Scriptures from the Old Testament echo still in our consideration of God’s discipline:
When Achan sinned and greedily took of forbidden goods: garments, silver and gold, Jehovah’s anger was kindled against Israel, Josh.7.1. As a result, Israel was defeated in battle. God said to Joshua: “Israel hath sinned” Josh.7.11. He then added: “Up … sanctify yourselves” v.13.
When Saul fell in battle, David, the man Saul had made his enemy, wisely commanded his troops: “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice” 2Sam.1.20.
God is jealous of His own honour; even when only one saint sins, His people are affected by that sin, until it is dealt with. Even if that one saint is an elder, the assembly has to judge that sin; no-one is exempt from discipline. 1Tim.5.20: “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” refers to a specific situation, but its application is wider; public rebuke before the assembly is necessary. However, the same God Who is jealous of His own honour is also jealous of His own people, even of those who have sinned; so much so that the failure of a saint is not to be told to Jew or Gentile, who are not in the family of God. The disciplining of a saint affects every saint and should not be the subject of gossip, whether the hearer is a saint or a person still in his or her sins.
To be continued (D.V.)
by J. A. Davidson (N. Ireland)
SPIRITUAL OR SOCIAL?
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” Acts 2.42.
Contemporary assembly conditions often show a marked departure from New Testament simplicity and dependence upon the leading of the Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit. Often this is due to failure on the part of the elders to provide guidance and teaching from the Scriptures. There is a great need to promote spiritual growth and stability among promising young brethren and sisters.
There are five forms of fellowship in the New Testament.
Social Fellowship: “Breaking bread (eating of meals) from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart” Acts 2.46. This was especially necessary for those who had lost their houses and livelihood because of persecution. It is still good to show hospitality to the Lord’s people in our homes. “What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in?” 1Cor.11.22.
Fellowship of Service: Paul gives thanks; “For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now” Phil 1:5.
Practical Fellowship: Paul rejoiced in the material support received from the believers at Philippi. “Ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction” Phil.4.14.
Fellowship in the Light: John writes: “Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” 1Jn.1.3. “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another” 1Jn.1.7. All believers in the family of God, share the same life in Christ rejoicing in the grace of God’s salvation.
In Acts 2 the order is Salvation, “They that gladly received His word”; Baptism, “Were baptized” (baptizo = overwhelm, immerse); Addition, “There were added unto them” (the company of believers at Jerusalem) Acts 2.41; Continuation, “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and [the] fellowship, in [the] breaking of bread, and in [the] prayers” Acts 2.42. What is this fellowship?
LOCAL ASSEMBLY FELLOWSHIP
Local assembly fellowship (koinonos) is a partnership, sharing, oneness expressed in the apostles’ doctrine, the prayers and the breaking of bread, partaking of that one cup (not individual cups) and one bread (not cubes) as instituted by the Lord, in the fellowship of the Lord’s table (1Cor.10.21) and partaking of the Lord’s Supper (1Cor.11.20). It is clear that this is a fellowship of local believers, known to each other and to the elders, who meet regularly in one place. When Saul of Tarsus got saved, “he assayed to join (glue) himself to the disciples” Acts 9.26. “He was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem” Acts 9.28. This involves a fellowship of labour and service.
If no local assembly exists, we labour in the gospel to see one formed. If an assembly exists, then we serve to see it increase spiritually and numerically. “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost … For from you [the assembly at Thessalonica] sounded out the word of the Lord” 1Thess.1.5,8.
The only addition the gospel needs is that it be preached in the power of the Spirit of God. Innovations are usually introduced in children’s work. Beautiful Bible stories hold the attention of children if simply and prayerfully presented. Power-point presentations, slide shows and “Left Behind” videos are entertainment at best and the stirring of an emotional atmosphere that produces false profession at worst. When God sends the gospel He also sends the embodiment of the message in the messenger. Spirit-filled men with clean lives commend the gospel to seeking souls. Radio and TV preachers and videos create social attractions often disguising abominable doctrines, money appeals and, at times, immoral lives. Why should we copy the innovations of the charismatic confusion around us? Some say we need more music, with services that are more lively and have more activity for the young.
In the New Testament, there is the book of the Acts, written by Luke; fourteen Epistles written by Paul, if we include Hebrews, three by John, two by Peter, one by James, and one by Jude. That totals twenty-two communications by six authors, inspired by the Spirit of God over seventy years, with no reference to musical accompaniment. The choice is either between quiet meditation, spiritual exercise and power in the preaching of Spirit-filled godly men or the clatter of the xylophone, the strumming of the guitar, the plaintive wail of the violin or the blare of the trumpet. The music of the piano or organ can be enjoyed privately in the circle of the home. These things develop, so that a soloist develops to a choir, the organ in the assembly becomes the orchestra in the auditorium and the trained pastor system develops into the clerical system that former generations left at great cost. Let us praise God, “singing and making melody in your heart [the organ] to the Lord” Eph.5.19. Do we need to make a theatre of the assembly to have the thrill of the sensual or the attraction of the charismatic? Seminars, social gatherings, extra-assembly fellowships of entertainment are a gross infringement of the sovereignty of the Spirit and could be continued if local assemblies did not exist.
All the meetings of the assembly for which we have Scriptural authority are spiritual exercises. The Spirit-filled exercise of priesthood and prayer; the spiritual outpouring of worship; ministry that is Spirit controlled; the exercise of spiritual gifts; the preaching of the gospel in the power of the Spirit of God sent down from heaven will lead to report meetings where we rejoice in what the Spirit of God has done. There is a great need for the godly shepherd care from spiritual men.
In summary, the dispensation of grace began with the descent of the Holy Spirit. This is the age of the Spirit. A vibrant New Testament assembly will focus upon spiritual activities:-
Assembly Practices as Spirit filled: Acts 4.31 “The place was shaken when they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost”.
Gospel Preaching as Spirit empowered: 1Cor.2.4 “Not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power”.
Church Principles as Spirit taught: 1Cor.2.10 “But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit”.
Testimony Preserved as Spirit sanctified: 1Cor.3.16 “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?”
To be continued (D.V.)
by Albert L. Leckie, Scotland
Romans chapter 12 divides into three sections:
- Self in Relation to God, vv.1,2
- Self in Relation to Fellow Believers, vv.3-13
- Self in Relation to the World, vv.14-21.
Consecration is the great subject matter of the chapter. In vv.1,2, it is consecration with regard to God; in vv.3-13, consecration with regard to our fellow believers; and in vv.14-21, consecration with regard to the world.
When the apostle thinks of consecration in regard to God, vv.1,2, he speaks of the body first and then the mind. In speaking of the body, he has before him its presentation to God; when speaking of the mind, he’s thinking of proving the will of God.
The second section, consecration with regard to our fellow believers, vv.3-13, can be divided into two sections. In vv.3-8, Paul deals with the great subject of sobriety in the exercise of gift, and mentions seven different gifts. Then in vv.9-13, Paul deals with the sincerity of love: “Let love be without dissimulation”. This relates to our sincerity of love in practical Christian duties. In the final section, vv.14-21, where the apostle speaks of consecration regarding the world, vv.14-17 deal with the need for grace toward men and vv.18-21 deal with peaceableness toward men.
CONSECRATION WITH REGARD TO GOD, vv.1,2
Brother A.M.S. Gooding has divided v.1 as follows:
- the Character of Paul’s Appeal
- the Basis of Paul’s Appeal
- the Substance of Paul’s Appeal
- the Logic of Paul’s Appeal.
The Character of Paul’s Appeal is: “I beseech you therefore, brethren”. In v.3 Paul says, “I say, through the grace given unto me,” but here in v.1, it’s, “I beseech.” “I say” has Paul’s apostolic authority in view, but “I beseech” puts Paul alongside his brethren, and as such he implores them or beseeches them to do something. We are reminded of his letter to Philemon: “Though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee [or command thee] that which is convenient [or befitting], yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee” vv.8,9. I feel that a right thing said in a wrong way, often produces a state worse than the first. Says the apostle, “I beseech you.”
Then we see The Basis of Paul’s Appeal: “The mercies of God”. There are two Greek words for “mercy.” One is active and has the sense of compassion, of advancing succour, while the other is subjective, raising the idea of pity. The apostle brings both together in Rom.9.15, which could be rendered: “I will succour whom I will succour, and I will have pity on whom I will pity.” Here, the word conveys pity. It’s the pity of God in all its plurality, no doubt covering the whole of Romans from chapters 1 to 11. In fact, in chapter 11, the apostle says that the Gentiles have “now obtained mercy through their [the Jews’] unbelief; even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy” vv.30,31. Thus, regardless of whether one is a Jew or Gentile, Paul says God’s dealings have been full of wonderful compassion and pity. In view of that Divine pity and compassion, Paul beseeches them to present their bodies a living sacrifice.
I trust dear brethren, that we’ll never forget the wonder of Divine mercy. An old brother in South Wales, who is crippled from head to foot with arthritis and never free from pain, said to me when asked how he was keeping: “Brother Leckie, a thousand times better than I deserve to be”. As he thought of the wonder of Divine mercy, the tremendous pity of God, what and where he might have been, he responded: “A thousand times better than I deserve to be”. I trust we never lose that; the sense of wonder at Divine pity and compassion towards us.
In Romans chapter 3 we are viewed as fallen man; the whole world is guilty. However, if as man we are fallen in Romans chapter 3, in chapter 5 we are given a new standing in the grace of God. We’re freely introduced into this grace wherein we stand and we stand in the wonder of Divine grace, clothed in the best robe, with a ring on our hand and shoes on our feet, no longer fallen sinners. In Romans chapter 3 every mouth is stopped; the whole world is guilty before God, with nothing to say. Our guilt and shame closed our mouths, but in Romans chapter 5 our mouths are opened wide as we rejoice in the One from Whom reconciliation has been received. Says Paul, “If you really appreciate these things, if the wonder of Divine mercy has gripped your heart, I make this appeal, that you present your body a living sacrifice.”
The Substance of the Appeal: “That ye present your bodies”. In Romans chapter 1 the apostle spoke of those who dishonoured their bodies: “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves” v.24. So low did they stoop, we hardly care to read the verses publicly.
In unconverted days, every member of our bodies was in the service of sin. That’s Romans chapter 3: the throat was an open sepulchre, with our tongues we used deceit, the poison of asps was under our lips, our mouths were full of cursing and bitterness, and our feet were swift to shed blood. But now that Divine grace has reached and saved us, Paul says: “Yield yourselves unto God … and your members [the members of your bodies] as instruments of righteousness [or, weapons to do what is right] unto God” Rom.6.13. What a change grace has wrought!
However, notice what the apostle says concerning the presentation of the body. He speaks of that because the body involves the whole person and through it the soul and spirit express themselves. This is brought before us frequently in Scripture. In connection with the Son of God, Heb.10.5,7 states: “A body hast Thou prepared Me … Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God”. In Phil.1.20, Paul wrote: “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death”. In 1Cor.6.19,20 we read: “And ye are not your own … ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body …”.
“Present your bodies.” “Present” is a lovely word, which Paul uses again in Rom.6.13, “Yield yourselves unto God”. Dear brethren, this is not surrendering our bodies grudgingly or rendering our bodies dutifully, but yielding or presenting them willingly and worshipfully. In fact, Paul would say, “If the wonder of Divine mercy has really gripped your hearts, then willingly and worshipfully you will place yourself upon the altar for God.” It is easy to speak of the wonder of God’s salvation, but has it so gripped us that we cannot hold anything back: that worshipfully and willingly we present ourselves to God a living sacrifice, a living, worshipful sacrifice?
My dear brethren, whenever there’s a sacrifice, there’s a cost. It means it will cost us something and it certainly does. Paul spoke of “always bearing about in the body, the dying [or, putting to death] of the Lord Jesus” 2Cor.4.10. He held his body in such a way that he was prepared to die in his pursuit of the will of God.
Many of us give too much attention to the comfort and preservation of the body. Its comfort, luxury, and preservation take priority to doing the will of God. Paul said, however, “This is how I hold my body. I’m prepared, if necessary, to be put to death as Jesus was put to death, if only His life might be manifested in my mortal flesh.” Even when chained to Roman soldiers in prison, awaiting the verdict of the court of appeal whether he would live or die, Paul’s desire was that Christ be magnified in his body, Phil.1.20. Paul might have boasted that he was “circumcised the eighth day,” or as early as possible; he was no proselyte, Phil.3.5, but in contrast to those who boasted, it meant nothing to him. “This is the thing that means most to me,” he would exclaim, “I bear in my body brand marks that indicate I’m a slave of the Lord Jesus” Gal.6.17. What were these brand marks? They were wounds and bruises and welts from scourging, stoning, shipwreck and imprisonment among other things. Says Paul, “This is how I hold my body for God and these marks indicate that I am His, ‘whose I am and whom I serve’” Acts 27.23.
The thought of a living sacrifice is contained in Paul’s words to the Philippians: “For to me to live is Christ” 1.21. That is a living sacrifice, which we present holy, set apart to God, and free from blemish. Not only holy, but acceptable (in conformity to the will of God); this is well pleasing to God. Anything else would not be acceptable.
Then there is The Logic of Paul’s Appeal: “Which is your reasonable [intelligent or rational] service”. This is the word Peter uses in 1Pet.2.2, where he speaks of the “sincere milk of the Word“. In other words, Paul says, “Having judged this to be the mind of God (surely it is the mind of God), and this to be your rational, intelligent service, then place yourself without reserve upon the altar for God. Here are my hands, my feet, my eyes, my ears, my intellect: let them all be Thine: only Thine and always Thine”. If we value the wonder of Divine mercy as we should, this will regulate our lives and encourage us to surrender our all in willing consecration to Him.
To be continued, (D.V.)
(This article has been transcribed from a recording of our late brother’s ministry and submitted for publication. It also explains its somewhat colloquial style.)
by W. C. Lavery (USA)
In this article we will consider some truths concerning the King from the Gospel of Matthew.
THE GENEALOGY OF THE KING – Matt.1.1-16
A king must prove his right to the throne and in Matthew’s Gospel, the Gospel of the King, the genealogy commences with King David and flows down via his son Solomon to Joseph. In Luke’s Gospel the genealogy ascends from our Lord through Nathan, the son of David, to Adam. Most commentators agree that this is the genealogy of Mary. The direction of these remind us of the occasion when the Ark of the Covenant entered the river Jordan for, “The waters which came down from above stood, and rose up in one heap, a great way off at Adam …” Josh.3.16, R.V. Luke’s genealogy flows upward to Adam. Luke is the Gospel of the Priest and a priest must have a pedigree (see Ezra 2.62). Our Lord did not descend from Levi but as our High Priest He needed a genealogy to prove that He is a real man! “Since therefore the children partake of blood and flesh, He also, in like manner, took part in the same” Heb.2.14, J.N.D. In contrast, Matthew’s genealogy flows downward to Christ the King. It is also interesting to note the four women, besides Mary, that Matthew mentions. Tamar is included as the result of her sin, Rahab because of her faith, Ruth because of grace and Bathsheba because of forgiveness. All we who are saved have a relationship with our Lord on these principles, for we were all sinners who exercised faith and were saved by grace and we all enjoy the forgiveness of our sins. Matthew’s genealogy ends with the Lord Jesus and yet in a way it continues for the Lord states, “Behold I and the children which God hath given Me” Heb.2.13. May we never forget that we have been brought, at infinite cost, into an eternal relationship with our blessed Lord.
THE HUMILITY OF THE KING – Matt.2.5,6
The King’s humility is seen in His lowly birth. Herod inquired where the Christ should be born, “And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule My people Israel.” This quotation is from Mic.5.2, but his pen wrote, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah …”. Little Bethlehem was brought from obscurity into prominence by the presence of the King. Christ was born in the little town of Bethlehem and not in the great city of Jerusalem! His was a humble birth. He commenced His earthly sojourn lying in a manger and in death lay in a borrowed tomb. When the work of creation was finished He rested on the Sabbath, and after He had completed the work of Calvary He also rested on the Sabbath. Cruel men did all that they could to humiliate our blessed Lord, but, “He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross [obedient to the Father to the extent of death, even the Cross death]” Phil.2.8. Humility is summed up in the Lord’s own words, “Not My will, but Thine, be done” Lk.22.42. When we carry out Paul’s advice, “Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” Phil.2.5, R.V., many personal and assembly problems and difficulties will be solved. O to be more like our blessed Lord.
THE PURITY OF THE KING – Matt.3.17
Upon entering His earthly ministry the Lord associated Himself with the godly remnant of Israel. Individuals were baptised confessing their sin! Their only hope was in the coming Messiah. So that no one would err regarding the sinless perfection of the Lord, the Father opened the heavens, the Holy Spirit descended on the Lord, and the voice proclaimed the Father’s delight in His Son. His life of spotless purity brought delight to the Father’s heart. Beloved readers, if the heavens were parted today could the Father express His pleasure in us? Are we pure morally and doctrinally? “Keep thyself pure” 1Tim.5.22. The Lord is coming and, “every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure” 1Jn.3.3.
THE SUPREMACY OF THE KING – Matt.4.11
The Lord’s baptism is followed immediately by His temptation in the wilderness. God had brought His people into a land flowing with milk and honey. Egypt was dependent on the great river Nile for irrigation but the promised land claimed no great river. God promised to send the early and the latter rain but only upon their obedience to His Word. The nation failed miserably not only in the wilderness but in the land. Hence a wilderness in the land. Adam also failed the test in the beautiful environment of Eden through disobedience. Our blessed Lord in adverse surroundings and after fasting for forty days and forty nights stood firmly in His obedience to the Word of God. His answer to the tempter was “It stands written”. God’s Word never changes, it endures for ever. The Lord quoted the applicable Scriptures from the book of Deuteronomy, which was penned by Moses after forty years of testing in the wilderness. Alas, Moses also failed by smiting, instead of speaking to, the rock. As sinners we were characterised by disobedience, Eph.2.2, but now we are exhorted to be obedient children dependent on God’s Word! The Lord triumphed over Satan and proved that He is indeed competent to reign supreme.
THE TESTIMONY OF THE KING – Matt.4.16
“The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.” Often Israel’s enemies swooped down from the north and the people of Galilee of the Gentiles were in great danger. Our blessed Lord brought light from heaven to these poor souls who were in darkness. Beloved, we live in a dark and dangerous world where we have a responsibility to bring light from heaven into our dark neighbourhoods. A light doesn’t shout; it shines. Light exposes and reveals and as conditions grow darker in our world our lamps as individuals and assemblies should shine all the more brightly. It is possible to hide our light under a bushel basket or under a bed! At times we are too busy or perhaps too lazy to live and labour for the Master. May the Lord help us to reflect some of the light of heaven into this dark world.
THE AUTHORITY OF THE KING – Matt.4.18-22
The Lord Jesus is not only looking for lights to shine but for labourers to speak! Servants are needed for both public and personal work. Our Lord only calls industrious persons. Peter and Andrew were busy casting their net into the sea yet immediately responded to the call to be fishers of men. Peter became a public speaker and Andrew a personal worker. James and John were also called as they were busy mending their nets. All are not called to full-time service but all have a responsibility to reach out to the lost and perishing. Our priorities may be wrong and at times our daily jobs or worldly pleasures may take first place in our lives. All believers who desire to see souls saved must let down their nets and launch out into the deep. No matter how deeply souls are entrenched in sin they can be caught in the gospel net. Are we all involved in this great work? We cannot induce sinners to enter the net for that is the work of the Holy Spirit but we are responsible to let down our nets.
THE MAJESTY OF THE KING – Matt.17.1-8
Matthew invites us now to witness the majesty of the King on the mount of transfiguration. This scene presents a preview of the coming in power of our Lord Jesus Christ. The persons present with the Lord may be representative in different ways but we will briefly consider Moses, the law-giver from Mount Sinai, and Elijah the prophet from Mount Carmel. In Matt.16.26, R.V., we read, “What shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his life?” Moses gave up the world of the palace and its pleasures and associated himself with the people of God and their struggle with slavery. Elijah stood alone against a world steeped in idolatry. The opposition of this age did not deter either from carrying out God’s purposes for their lives. They gave up the world and God rewarded them with a place close to the Lord in the preview of the Kingdom. There is a lesson for us to learn from this! All who stay at a distance from the world because of devotion to our blessed Lord will be given a place near to Him in the coming Kingdom. Peter learned a tremendous lesson on the mount. That day he thought that the fulfilment of the feast of tabernacles had arrived and suggested building three tabernacles. He soon learned that that feast had not yet been fulfilled. The Shekinah glory overshadowed them and they saw no man save Jesus only. Years later when Peter wrote of the above experience, Moses and Elijah were conspicuous by their absence! He learned the lesson well and was occupied with no one save Jesus only. Soon we shall see the King in all His beauty but in the present day we enjoy beholding His beauty by the eye of faith.
by Jeremy Gibson (England)
As a physician, Luke was keenly interested in Christ’s childhood development. With this focus in mind, Luke omitted the Eastern sages’ visit to Bethlehem, Herod’s murderous rage and the life-saving flight into Egypt, Matthew chapter 2. Instead, Luke having described how Mary and Joseph meticulously observed the legal requirements for childbirth and purification at Jerusalem, immediately goes on to tell how they travelled north to Nazareth, v.39. Here, in this provincial town, “the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon Him” v.40. After a brief visit to Jerusalem at twelve years of age, the Lord Jesus returned to Nazareth, where He “was subject unto” Mary and Joseph and “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” vv.51,52.
The normal stages of healthy childhood development are well attested.1 As a baby, child and young person, the Lord Jesus grew naturally, passing each of these milestones, all apart from sin. It should fill us with utter wonder to think of His great stoop, His unfathomable condescension, that He not only voluntarily restricted Himself to a perfect human body (never relinquishing omnipresence) but experienced each stage of human growth. “He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth” Isa.40.22, gradually demonstrated the ability to sit unsupported. He, Who made the stars with His fingers, Ps.8.3, and “treadeth upon the waves of the sea” Job 9.8, began to walk a few steps, operate fine pincer grip with His finger tips and voluntarily release objects. He, Who created the universe and “rideth upon the heavens by His name JAH’ Ps.68.4, progressed to being able to stoop and recover His posture. While developing as a child He retained the Divine attribute of omniscience, Col.2.3. It must be emphasised that He never demonstrated that sinful foolishness which “is bound in the heart of a child” Prov.22.15. Rather, waxing strong in spirit, His devotion to the will of God would have become increasingly evident. And as He grew in Nazareth, God’s grace rested upon Him, Who was Himself the living embodiment of Divine grace.
God always had infinite delight in Him, but as each day passed there was more and more in which He could delight, so that “Jesus increased in … favour with God” Lk.2.52. During His teenage years (which, in sinful people, can potentially be rebellious), He Who commanded angel armies, submitted flawlessly, without resentment, to Mary and Joseph, Eph.6.1; contrast 2Tim.3.2. It was pleasant to be in His company and a joy for Mary to be His mother, see Prov.23.24,25.
Obeying Mosaic law, Mary and Joseph “went up to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover” v.41. Although 13 years is the age when Jewish boys become fully accountable for their own actions (called a son [bar] of the commandment [mitzvah]), able to marry and own property, and required to attend the feasts, ‘the legal age was in this respect anticipated by two years, or at least by one (Yama 82a).’2 And so, at the age of twelve, probably for the first time, the Lord Jesus accompanied Mary and Joseph as “they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast” v.42. Although Passover was followed by seven days of unleavened bread, Ex.23.15, ‘only on the first two days of the feast of passover was personal attendance in the temple necessary.’3 Luke’s words, “when they had fulfilled the days” v.43, did not necessarily mean that Mary and Joseph had stayed for the full seven days. Perhaps the Lord Jesus intended to remain for the rest of the week.
- 2. Edersheim A. The Life and Times of JESUS THE MESSIAH (Hendrickson Publishers, 1993), p.163.
- 3. ibid p. 170.
Families, groups and villages tended to travel together to Jerusalem’s feasts. And so it is not too surprising that when “the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem” Mary and Joseph did not initially notice, assuming Him “to have been in the company … among their kinsfolk and acquaintance” vv.43,44. They “went a day’s journey” before realisation gradually dawned that the twelve-year-old Jesus was missing. What must have begun as a curious questioning of their companions became alarm: “and when they found Him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem” v.45. It took three days of searching before “they found Him sitting in the temple in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions” v.46. Instead of directly teaching them, which would have appeared precocious, He skilfully directed the discussion with carefully crafted, thought provoking questions. The result was “all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers” v.47.
Mary and Joseph were equally amazed “when they saw Him” v.48. Three days of anxiety, mixed with huge relief, caused Mary mistakenly to rebuke Him: “Son, why hast Thou thus dealt with us? behold, Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing” v.48. The Lord Jesus corrected her error. There was no reason for them to seek Him because they should have known He would have been in the temple, doing His Father’s business. His words also made clear that God, not Joseph, was His true father. These are the first recorded words that the Lord Jesus spoke publicly and they display His full commitment to the Father’s will, v.48, comp. Heb.10.5.
Even though Mary and Joseph had both received personal, Divine revelation concerning Christ’s Deity, they were slow to grasp things: “they understood not the saying which He spake unto them” v.50. Nevertheless, “His mother kept all these sayings in her heart” v.51. Similarly, while we may not understand Scripture at first (or even hundredth) reading, we should do all we can to treasure up thoughts of Christ in our hearts.
As a polished shaft, hidden in God’s quiver, the Lord Jesus waited another eighteen years before He began His public ministry, Isa.49.2. During these quiet, unseen years the Lord Jesus humbly learnt to work as a carpenter, while living with half-brothers and half-sisters who, despite seeing first hand a perfect life, did not immediately believe in Him, Mk.6.3; Jn.7.5. He observed much that provided material for His teaching in parables to convey Divine truths. His continued, hands-on experience of life generally was necessary for Him to be a merciful and sympathetic High Priest, Heb.2.17; 4.15.
The Lord’s perfectly balanced human development teaches Christian parents a fourfold responsibility. First, they should encourage intellectual development and education. Second, to allow physical growth they must keep children well fed and safe from danger. Third, they should raise children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” Eph.6.4. Fourth, they ought to make every effort to facilitate social development through appropriate interaction of the children with other children. When the Saviour avoided embarrassing the older Jewish teachers He illustrated how we ought to submit to older Christian leaders, even if we know more than they do, Heb.13.17. His quiet years of work and contemplation at Nazareth remind us of the importance of working to support ourselves, 2Thess.3.10-12, and the need for patience. The best way to await God’s time is to go in for private meditation away from the limelight. As Joseph Hall so aptly put it, ‘He gathers that hears; he spends that teacheth: if we spend before we gather, we shall prove bankrupts.’4
4. Hall J. “Contemplations on the historical passages of the Old and New testaments”, 3 vols. (Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995), Vol.3, p.54.
In the Bible the apostle Paul, who wrote a sizeable portion of the New Testament epistles, did not often speak about himself. In fact he wrote, “we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord” 2Corinthians 4.5. However, when he wrote to his close companion Timothy, in the final days of his life, he did refer to himself a number of times and some of these references are introduced with the expression “I am”. I would like you to think of three of these expressions.
The first is in 1Timothy 1.15 and is a confession: he says, “I am chief”. We may ask, “Chief of what?” Note the unmistakable language, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” This man described himself as the chief of sinners. You may say, “I’m not a sinner”, but God’s Word states, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” 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. There is no way of evading these statements; we are all sinners and thus are facing eternal banishment from God.
However, the God against Whom we have sinned planned the way in which our sins can be forgiven, a way that involved the giving of His only begotten Son to the agonising death of crucifixion at the place called Calvary. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” John 3.16. To activate this plan to save sinners, God’s Son was willing to endure the agony of Calvary’s cross and so says our verse, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners …” He is the only Saviour. Salvation is not found in a church, in religion or in our works. It is found alone in a Person: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” Acts 4.12.
The second “I am” is in 2Timothy 1.12 where we read: “I am not ashamed: 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.” Clearly this is the “I am” of confidence. Paul was facing death and shortly after writing these words, was beheaded. He never trembled or panicked but with stately dignity he faced death. What gave such confidence? He said, “I know whom I have believed.” He never said a word about “what I believed” or “what I joined” or “what ordinances I kept”. His faith was in a Person. Dear reader, it is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone that brings salvation and peace with God.
The final “I am” is in 2Timothy 4.6, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.” This brings us to the conclusion, “I am now ready to be offered …” He is already being poured out and he would soon depart. The word ‘depart’ bears the meaning of ‘unmooring’. We think of a ship that has unloaded its cargo and is ready to depart to another shore. Paul says that his service for God on earth has concluded and he is about to leave for another land, namely heaven. This is the conclusion of every soul who has believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. The tragedy of everlasting punishment awaits those who reject the Saviour.