|Vol. 14, No. 6, Nov. - Dec. 1985
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
SOME MEANINGS OF WORSHIP
John H. Paterson
THE idea of worshipping God is one of the most familiar of human themes.
It is common to those who worship tree-spirits and those who crowd into
great cathedrals. A part of every religion which acknowledges a god is that
he should be worshipped. Christians are bidden to worship, and gladly do
so. Yet if we stop to ask, "What does worship consist of? What are we actually
doing when we worship?" we may find this universal reaction to the
godhead difficult to define.
The problem is compounded by the embarrassing richness of the English
language in alternative words like "praise", "adore" and "give thanks".
Are they different from "worship" and, if so, in what way? Is a "worship
service", which you will sometimes see announced, anything more than a meeting
of Christians at which they carefully avoid asking God for things
they need? Can we give the idea of worship any content?
This word, "content", is, I think, the key. Those of us who, from age
or taste, find much modern worship devoid of content can easily point out
that to sing choruses which simply repeat the name of Jesus -- or, even
worse, "I'm so happy" -- over and over again has very little to do with
worship. Only when we come to consider content can we begin to distinguish
between the tree-spirit worshipper (who may well feel happy in doing whatever
he does!) and the worshipping Christian believer.
Perhaps I can introduce this search for content in worship by making
two very simple points about it to begin with. The first is the suggestion
that the focus of worship is what God is rather than what He does
. I think that there is a simple, practical distinction between thanking
God for His mercies and worshipping Him as their author -- as
the One who thought of such things for us in the first place.
The second point then follows: that since the theme of worship is God's
attributes and character, the quality of that worship depends on
just how much of them we know. The worship of a believer who knows little
of God and His ways will grow richer if, with time and experience, he comes
to realise more of what God is like: in other words, our capacity
for worship should increase as we come to know Him better. Let us trust
that all of us may, in this way, grow in grace and knowledge.
If these points are accepted, I want to choose three aspects of worship
for our present purpose and look at them in turn. For ease of reference
they can be listed in this way:
Worship as Acknowledgement or Recognition
Worship as Acceptance or Submission
Worship as Appreciation
Worship as Acknowledgement or Recognition
If we are to worship in spirit and in truth, then we must begin by recognising
that God is utterly different from us His creatures: He is the Wholly Other.
So long as we think of God as being separated from ourselves only by virtue
of being wiser, or stronger, or more far-sighted than we are, we have no
subject-matter for worship. Worship stems, on the contrary, precisely from
the recognition that, no matter how good we are, or however hard we try,
He is simply outside our class, and far off the top of our human scale.
Let me take a simple illustration. A young man or woman who is interested
in, say, football or tennis watches their favourite player and thinks,
"If I train hard, and watch my diet, one day I may be as good as he or
she is." Between their own ability and that of their hero there is no discontinuity;
the greater ability and the lesser are linked by a chain of evident circumstances
-- practice, speed, muscle power. [101/102]
But between God and His worshippers there is, if I may put it this way,
a total discontinuity! God is not just a very special version of ourselves:
He is utterly different. He is in a class altogether by Himself. And that,
as I see it, is one of the main Bible grounds for worship, a worship that
grows as our understanding increases of just how deep and wide is the gap
between God and ourselves.
The problem is to get some idea of scale of the greatness of God. The
psalmist chose the only possible scale when he wrote:
"When I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and
the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man ...?" (Psalm 8:3-4)
If you are like me, you generally read that familiar passage as a measure
of the scale of man; it is the word "man" which we emphasise as
we read it. But the psalm is addressed "O Lord, our Lord"; what the psalmist
had in mind was to focus equally on how great God is, judged by the scale
of His infinite universe.
Nor is the unbounded superiority of God in His creation recognised by
man alone. In the Book of the Revelation, there is much worshipping of
God, and that by beings far ahead of us men and women in their own wisdom
and power, yet who realize that for them, too, there is this great gap
between God and themselves. The perceptive beings who surround His throne
know (Revelation 5:1-5) that "there is no man in heaven, nor in earth,
neither under the earth" who is worthy to open the book -- no one except
the Lamb and, recognising this, they worship.
Worship grows out of being repeatedly out-classed by God -- in wisdom,
skill, perception and power! This is, of course, very obvious when you think
about it, yet I feel that it also has practical importance. At least, one
of the things guaranteed to stifle worship in our hearts is a feeling
that God is in some way just one of us: that we could do better for ourselves
than He has done, or that He has not willed for us the best will possible
(and you may recognise that as the very thing of which Satan successfully
convinced Eve in the Garden of Eden). He then becomes no more than a trade
union official who has failed to negotiate for his workers as good a contract
as they were hoping to get. No worship there!
The reality is, of course, that not merely could we not have done what
God in Christ has done, but we could not have thought of it in the first
place! What He has wrought is, in the most literal sense, amazing grace
-- amazing because it would never have occurred to us at all. On our own,
we should never have got further than John in Revelation, who "wept much"
because the opening of the book seemed utterly impossible.
The assurances which we offer one another that God is near us, and interested
in us, that He loves us and indwells us by the Spirit are all true. They
are all things for which we should be thanking Him every day. But worship
comes from putting this in its context -- that the One who does all this,
and gives all this, outclasses us completely; He is immeasurable by our
standards, and what a good thing that He is!
Worship as Acceptance or Submission
Now that leads straight into my second suggestion about the content
of worship: that worship means submission to, or acceptance of, God's way
of doing things. This may seem at first sight a little surprising; yet I
find that all my own favourite Bible references to worship fall under this
Worship consists, then, of recognising the "otherness" of God, and that
means that His ways are not our ways and that His thoughts are higher than
ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). We show that we have indeed recognised this by
accepting His way, even when it seems contrary to all that our wisdom
might suggest. [102/103]
But what, you may ask, has that got to do with worship? Consider, if
you will, this list of men of God in the Scriptures whose worship lay precisely
in their submission to God's sometimes strange way in their lives. There
1. Abraham He was told by God to kill and sacrifice his son Isaac,
the son of the promise, and he set out to obey God, saying to his servants
(Genesis 22:5), "I and the lad will go yonder; and we will worship
2. David While his child by Bathsheba lay dying, he fasted and
prayed that it might live. He was then told that, after all, it had died
(2 Samuel 12:15-20), at which he stopped praying and, to the astonishment
of his household, "came into the house of the Lord, and worshipped
3. Job His family was struck by the most bizarre combination
of tragedies that ever a man knew; yet he never uttered a word against God
(Job 1:20-22), but rather "fell down upon the ground, and worshipped
4. Jacob He had an encounter with God which left him lame and
powerless. Years later (Hebrews 11:21), recognising the hand of God in his
life, he " worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff."
What is common to all these cases, as you will see, is an attitude:
that this is not the way I should have chosen; indeed, it makes no sense
to me but, because it is God with whom I am dealing, I accept and submit
to His way. For the corollary of God's greatness is that He is always right!
And acceptance of that fact is worship. Paul expressed the same thing in
his own way, when writing about certain people who thought their way right:
"For we are the (true) circumcision, who worship God in the spirit,
and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh
" (Philippians 3:3).
Worship as Appreciation
Now if you have followed my argument so far, you will notice at this
point a rather curious thing: that up to now there has been nothing in what
I have suggested which is exclusively Christian. Spirit-worshipping pagans
stand in awe of their gods because they acknowledge the gap that divides
God and man, and in most eastern religions submission to the will of God
is taken for granted, even though, in that case, submission may carry overtones
of resignation and fatalism which, as Christians, we reject. It is when
we come to my third heading, worship as appreciation, that we find the distinctively
Christian note struck.
Anybody can recognise the awesome gap between God and man: as a matter
of fact, the devils also believe and tremble. But appreciation is something
quite different. My dictionary defines the word as "to be fully sensible
of all the good qualities in ...". Appreciation implies a knowledge or
character rather than action; it implies in this case that we may
come to know why God is doing things, rather than simply what
He is doing.
Our tree-worshipper -- or, for that matter, a sophisticated Greek whom
Paul might have met in Athens -- is in the position of trying to argue from
what he sees of the actions of his god -- storm, sickness, crop failure --
back to the character of the god who would do such things, and that is bound
to be, at best, a hit-and-miss process of deduction. What we have in the
good news of Jesus Christ is just the reverse of that: the revelation in
human life of the character of a God who must otherwise have remained unknown.
How could we ever be "fully sensible of all the good qualities" in the
character of our God if the Word had not become flesh and dwelt among us
... full of grace and truth (John 1:14)? Without that all-important revelation
of God in Christ, we should be like the woman of Samaria to whom the Lord
said, "Ye worship ye know not what" (John 4:22).
So the idea of worship as appreciation focuses our attention on the
Lord Jesus. It is because He embodied the character of God that we can
give content to our worship. We have only to notice, [103/104]
in order to see this, the contrast between Old Testament worship and New:
how much more variegated -- how much more appreciative, to use our word
again -- that reaction had become for those who had seen and known Jesus!
Through the Son, then, we know what the Father is like. We may worship
Him for His own special qualities -- that is, we can give content to our
worship -- because we see them displayed in the Son. We do not have to guess
at the character of God; we look at the Lord Jesus. And if, in our worship,
we tell God what we appreciate about His Son, that is the same as telling
Him that we have come to understand something of Himself.
We are not, of course, telling Him anything He does not already know!
No one appreciates the Lord Jesus like His Father: as the hymn-writer puts
The Father only, glorious claim,
The Son can comprehend.
But to see the Lord Jesus appreciated, even if only in a very small
way, by His human creatures must surely be a source of the deepest joy
to the Father, who will say to us, in effect, "I am so glad that you are
beginning to appreciate Him, too, and have you noticed this also, and this
The precious savour of His Christ
Is His delight for ever more ...
This, I suggest, is what a "worship service" should be -- a time when
we share with one another what the old divines used to call "the excellencies
of Christ". The outcome of doing so will surely be the drawing together
of the Father and His creatures in a common appreciation of His Son. What
better definition of worship is there?
TRUTH AND LIFE
J. Alec Motyer
1. LIVING OUT THE TRUTH -- THE EPISTLE TO TITUS
IN this Letter to Titus we find one of the loveliest passages in the
New Testament: "For the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all
men, educating us, to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly desires,
we should live sobermindedly and righteously and with true spirituality
in this present age, looking forward to that blessed hope, the appearing
of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself
for us, that he might redeem us from all lawlessness, and make clean for
himself a people for his personal possession, zealous of good works" (2:11-14).
I begin by asking, How do secrets get out? The Letter opens with what
must have been a secret transaction between Paul and the Lord. The writer
calls himself "A servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ" (1:1),
and in doing so refers to the secret intuitions which he had about himself
and his place in the purposes of God. Knowing, as we do, the background to
these claims, we remember that those who were with him on the road to Damascus
"saw the light but did not hear the voice" (Acts 22:9). They knew that something
was going on but for all they knew Paul had been struck by lightning or
had fallen down with [104/105] sunstroke. They did
not hear the explanatory voice; they did not know what he knew, that he
was being drawn to the Saviour. They knew nothing of his being shown the
Lord Jesus and being constituted an apostle of Christ and of His Church.
What is more, Paul himself made something of a secret of God's dealings
with him, for he said: "I did not consult with flesh and blood. I went off
to Arabia." (Galatians 1:15-17).
In the first place, then, his position was a secret matter between him
and his Lord. But it became public property. And that is why I ask how it
is that the secret realities of being a Christian are made known publicly.
Paul himself goes on to answer this question by explaining that it is by
listening and looking. First of all it is a matter of doctrine. Listen to
this! "Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the
faith of God's elect". He appeals here to a reality to which we will return
again and again in this brief series on Truth and Life. We come back again
and again to New Testament truth, and note that the Church already possesses
the truth. Paul was willing to be tested by that truth which is deposited
among the people of God. "The faith of God's elect" involves all that they
hold and believe as God's divine truth coming, as it does, from "God who
cannot lie" (1:2). It is as though the apostle advises Titus not to accept
what he says about his personal secret life with God as true just because
he says so, but because he is seen to be walking along the line of established
truth which is possessed by and believed by the people of God.
Then Paul says, 'Watch what I do'. The second test to which he subjects
himself is a moral or practical one. "Paul, a slave of God and an apostle
of Jesus Christ, according to ... the knowledge of the truth which is according
to godliness" or, as it is given in the helpful interpretation of the N.I.V.,
"the knowledge of that truth which leads to godliness." My apostleship
is vouched for not only by the fact that in my teaching I concur with the
deposit of truth laid down by the truthful God among His people, but if
you watch my life you will find in me that living moral practice which
is the counterpart of the truth. The truth leads out into godliness, it
finds its natural counterpart in holy living. Broadly speaking I think
that the word here translated 'godliness' refers to what we would call
spirituality -- the evidence in life of a sincere and deep walk with God.
It is thus that Paul makes his claims. He does not say that things must
be accepted just because he says them but should be subject to a doctrinal
and a practical test. Brothers and sisters, what Paul was prepared to use
as a test of reality in his own case, he also insists must be the test
of reality for every believer in all situations. There is never any concession;
we never admit exceptional circumstances, special conditions or exceptive
clauses in this particular matter. It applies to all Christians in all
situations. How is a Christian known? First because he professes a true
belief, and second because a matching godliness is evident in his life.
Double Emphasis for All
Paul stresses that this double emphasis on doctrine and life applies
to leaders: "Appoint elders in every city as I gave you charge. If any man
is unblameable, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, who
are not accused of profligacy or insubordination. For an overseer must
be unblameable. He is the steward of God, not autocratic, nor quick tempered,
not given to overmuch wine, not pugnacious, not greedy of money, but given
to hospitality, a lover of good, soberminded, just, holy, a controlled
person, holding the faithful word which is according to the teaching" (1:6-9).
If we ask how one can know if a person is fit for leadership, you must look
at his life and listen to his words. These are the marks of being a genuine
The apostle says the same about Titus himself. He does not claim that
Titus is in the apostolic succession -- not a bit of it! He can be known
as a man of spiritual authority only if he speaks "the things which match
(or befit) wholesome doctrine" (2:1). Once again the apostle says to him,
"In all things showing yourself an example of good works" (2:7). Paul himself
is ready to submit to the test and insists that Titus must do the same.
The next to be described are called "the aged men" and the "aged women"
(2:2-3). This, I imagine, does not refer to their actual age but rather
to those who may be described as more adult and mature believers. Concerning
the men we are told that they should be 'temperate' and seriously minded.
The word which is translated 'soberminded', appears several times in this
letter and it describes a person who has all his faculties integrated,
who is controlled and who knows who he is. The word is first used in the
New Testament in Mark 5:15, in connection with the man who was possessed
by a legion of demons. When asked his name by the Lord Jesus he replied,
"My name is Legion", confessing that he was not one person but a multiplication
of persons, all in confusion, who himself did not know what he was going
to do next. When Jesus had cast out the demon the people came and found that
he was "in his right mind", which is the same word, 'soberminded'. In other
words they found that he was now one whole person, in full control of all
his faculties. Paul goes on to say that the mature man must be sound, or
wholesome, "in faith, in love, in endurance". This, then, is the mark of
a true mature believer -- he is sound in doctrine and he is exemplary in
the way he lives.
The letter goes on to speak of the senior women, the mature women of
the congregation, saying that in their way of life they should be reverent,
or, according to the Greek, that they should live like holy priestesses
(2:3). They should not be slanderers, literally 'like Satan', anxious to
take away the character of other people, but "teachers of that which is
lovely", for that is the implication of the word 'good'. Furthermore, they
are to inculcate a true personality in the younger women, for again we have
the word 'soberminded', to be in full control of their faculties. Once again
there is this double emphasis, the mature Christian woman is known by what
she says and by what she does.
The same is applied even to slaves (2:9), confirming what I have said
at the beginning, that there are no excusatory circumstances. No-one can
avoid the issue by saying, 'I am only a slave. I have to do what I am told,
I have no choice in the matter.' "Exhort slaves to be subordinate to their
own masters, and to be well pleasing to them in all things; not answering
back, not pilfering ...". You have a choice in the way in which you do
things. Moreover you have the privilege of being called to "adorn the doctrine
of God our Saviour in all things". Adorn the doctrine -- is not that a
splendid thought? If you think of the doctrine as a person, then the life
of the believer can be like a precious jewel around that person's neck.
It is as though they make the doctrine of God to sparkle. So what is true
for the apostle and for the leader, is also true for even the lowliest of
The Reason for this Double Emphasis
By the Letter to Titus the Lord is speaking to all of us. These are
tests which we must face. I would like to give you two reasons why we should
pay attention to this matter of reality in what we believe and say and
in what we do and show in our lives.
i. Because God is our Saviour
As we move along in this letter we note how it alternates between calling
the Father our Saviour and calling the Lord Jesus our Saviour. The references
are 1:3, 1:4, 2:10, 2:13, 3:4 and 3:6, and then there is that which is
one of the great Trinitarian passages of the Bible: "According to his mercy
he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the
Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our
Saviour" (3:5-6). We have the initiative of the Father, the mediation of
the Son, and the applicatory work of the Holy Spirit. The whole Trinity Himself
is seen to be concentrating on our salvation!
There are three dimensions of salvation; there is the past, the future
and the present. As to the past, we are told that he "gave himself" on our
behalf (2:14) and that "When the kindness of God our Saviour and his philanthropy
(his love for man) appeared, according to his mercy he saved us" (3:4-5).
He saved us. He performed a work of salvation of which we
were the recipients. That lies in the past. The ultimate of salvation lies
in the future: "... that blessed hope; the appearing of the glory of our
great God" (2:13). We are justified by His grace that "we might be made heirs
according to the hope of eternal life" (3:7). So salvation looks back to
what God has done and looks forward to what He will do when Christ comes
to usher His own into eternal glory. [106/107]
But what about the present of salvation? The grace of God has appeared,
bringing salvation to all men, "instructing us ..." (2:12). Here is the
educative work of divine grace. The grace which reached back to save us
and will reach forward to bring us home, that same grace is now present
to educate us. And if we ask what that education consists of, the answer
is: "To the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should
live soberly and righteously ...", that is, as integrated persons with true
spirituality in a godly fashion. I have the feeling that 'sobermindedly'
refers to the person viewed inwardly in relation to all the capacities which
lie within his personality and which are often at war with one another.
As to 'righteously', I think that this means in conformity with the righteous
law of God, and has to do with what other people see happening in our lives.
This, then, is true spirituality, a sincere and genuine regard for God which
resides in our hearts and issues in our lives.
"He gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity (or lawlessness)
and to make clean for himself a people for his very own personal possession,
who are zealots of good works" (2:14). When Jesus chose the apostles, He
chose one, "Simon the zealot" or Simon the fanatic. Christians are to be
fanatical about good works. Further we are reminded of "the washing of regeneration"
(3:5) -- the washing that speaks of everything being set to rights -- and
"the renewing activity of the Holy Spirit." We see, then, that to possess
salvation means that grace educates, that Christians are to be fanatically
committed and that the Holy Spirit energises; it is therefore pointless
to claim to be saved unless people can see in our lives that God is our
ii. Because the world is our responsibility
This is the way in which our testimony must be given to the world around
us. When the Lord Jesus cleansed a leper, He said to him: "See thou say
nothing to any man; but go thy way, show thyself ..." (Mark 1:44). I think
that this is a marvellous piece of advice to give to new converts who, of
course, have got to come out with their testimony. But talking is not the
first thing, especially for young people. I beg you not to say to a young
person who is just converted 'Now go home and tell your parents.' They probably
don't know enough to tell their parents and the parents may get worried
that their child has religious mania so that what started as a testimony
meeting can end as a family slanging match. Don't do it! Be advised by the
Lord and say to them: 'See that you tell nobody but go and show yourself
to them. As soon as they discover that you begin making your own bed and
keeping your room tidy and perhaps cleaning your father's shoes for him,
it will not be a case of telling them that you have found the Saviour; it
will be a case of their asking you what has changed you. That will be the
time to speak.'
How true it is that the most efficacious testimony is that of a transformed
life. "Teach the young women to be real persons, pure, homemakers, full
of kindness ... that the word of God be not blasphemed" (2:5). Keep the
Christian cause free of criticism. "In all things showing yourself as a
headline example of lovely works; in your teaching, integrity, wholesome
words that cannot be condemned, that he that is of the contrary part may
be ashamed, having nothing discreditable to say of us" (2:7-8). Do we want
to impress the world? Well, it is true that the world is our responsibility,
so we should confront it with matching teaching and life.
Perhaps as you read Titus you will find that all the things spoken about
by way of moral virtues and values are very ordinary. Long, long ago, the
servants of Naaman said to him: "My father, if the prophet had told you
to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, when
he tells you to wash and be clean!" It is when the jewels of ordinary conduct
shine with a supernatural light in our lives that the word will take notice.
(To be continued) [107/108]
ISAIAH AND THE GOSPEL
6. CHRIST'S ATONING SACRIFICE (52:13 - 53:12)
ISAIAH said very little about the Temple and spoke critically of its
sacrifices and procedure, yet he was more than a mere moralist or reformer;
he was a true evangelist. Isaiah was the supreme prophet of Calvary. He himself
owed everything to his personal experience of the cleansing power of a substitutionary
sacrifice, for it was the application of "a live coal from off the altar"
which delivered him from a condemning conscience and made possible for him
intimate communion with the thrice-holy God. It was this experience which
made him a God-sent prophet, with the double message of a glorious King
and a sacrificial Saviour.
As we have seen, he spoke eloquently and often of "the king in his beauty",
but through the years he could only bear testimony in a very limited way
to Christ the sinbearer until the time came when he was entrusted with that
most poignant and beautiful prediction concerning the suffering Servant
of the Lord which is to be found in Chapter 53, the passage now under consideration.
From the first Isaiah spoke boldly of the fruits of redemption in the
forgiveness of sins (1:18; 43:25; 44:22) and the enjoyment of peace with
God (57:19). His first announcement of the virgin-born Messiah indicated
circumstances of adversity, and his later predictions concerning the Servant
of Jehovah gave some graphic details of the ill-treatment which He suffered
at the hands of His enemies (50:6), but the Scripture which we are now
considering not only tells of the facts of His crucifixion but also gives
us the deep spiritual meaning of the cross. So much so that it constitutes
what is perhaps a unique Old Testament presentation of the gospel. Reading
the chapter carefully and with prayer we find:
1. Divine Purpose
Isaiah makes it plain that God never contemplated any alternative to
the cross. This was what His determinate counsel and foreknowledge had planned
before time was. Pontius Pilate, Herod, Jewish leaders and Judas Iscariot
all acted wilfully and must bear their share of the blame, but over it
all the prophet proclaimed the sovereignty of the divine will. What happened
was that which "pleased the Lord" (53:10); it was He Himself who laid upon
Christ "the iniquity of us all" (v.6) and who made His soul "an offering
for sin" (v.10).
Human responsibility was fully involved in this death. Wicked men marred
His body (52:14), the people as a whole were deliberate unbelievers (53:1);
they despised and rejected Him (v.3), they led Him "as a sheep to the slaughter"
(v.7) and "they made his grave with the wicked" or tried to do so (v.9).
Yet however much wicked men and, still more, wicked demons could claim concerning
Christ's death that they did it, the Lord silences them with His divine
assertion: "I did it." It was "The arm of the Lord" that was revealed at
2. Total Victory
This brings us to the next feature of Isaiah's prophecy, namely that
this event was a complete triumph over all God's enemies. Before embarking
on the main narrative of Chapter 53, Isaiah voices the divine call: "Behold,
my servant shall deal wisely, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall
be very high" (52:13). The predetermined purpose of the cross is to raise
God's Christ to the highest possible place. It is true that we are faced
with the ugliest event in human history, but it is equally true that we see
in the cross the greatest wonder of all time (52:14-15). Whether men believe
it or not, the cross is the supreme revelation of God's triumphant power;
it is "the arm of the Lord."
Take a simple instance of this, referred to by Isaiah. They tried to
make the grave of Jesus "with the wicked" by the manner of His death and
the companionship in it of two criminals, but they failed for in fact he
was "with the rich (man) in his death" (v.9). The word 'rich' is singular
[108/109] and should have been so translated --
it refers of course to Joseph of Arimathaea. By a marvellous overruling of
God's providence, the sacred body of the Saviour was housed in that wealthy
man's rock tomb until the moment of resurrection, and not left to the wretched
fate which happened to the other two bodies. What "they" did was set aside
by what god did. The whole story is like that.
We do not know the chronological setting of Chapters 40 to 66. Did Isaiah
receive this amazing revelation while he was still engaged in his active
life in court circles? Did he begin to have some realisation of vicarious
suffering as he himself served God by "walking naked and barefoot" for three
years as a sign to the people (20:2-3)? Or was it in later years, in private
seclusion or even under persecution, that the great vision of the suffering
Saviour was granted to him? We do not know. What we do know is that even
in the darkest days he was a prophet of hope, and that his hope was not empty
optimism but the fruit of divine revelation. This is demonstrated by the
preview of Calvary's cosmic victory which we are now studying.
3. Willing Obedience
If we describe Christ's passion as fulfilling the Father's purpose,
we must never lose sight of the perfect willingness of the Son to suffer
in order that redemption might be freely provided for lost sinners. But we
must not harbour a sombre view of the character of Jesus. As Lord Hailsham
rightly says: "The tragedy of the Cross was not that they crucified a melancholy
figure, full of moral precepts, ascetic and gloomy ... What they crucified
was a young Man, vital, full of life and the joy of it, the Lord of life
For myself I have reservations about the title 'Man of sorrows', though
I do not find that most of my friends share my views. Just as the title
'Friend of sinners' was first given by scornful unbelievers, though afterwards
gladly welcomed by us all, so it seems to me that the title of 'Man of sorrows'
forms part of penitent Israel's confession of how in their unbelief they
had despised and rejected their true Redeemer. They did not believe the gospel
report, they did not know the arm of the Lord; they viewed the Servant of
Jehovah with contempt, hiding their faces from Him and wrongly judging that
His sufferings were the just punishment of a displeased God. "We did esteem
him ... stricken of God" (v.4). To them His origins were contemptible; He
was like "a root out of a dry ground" completely unattractive (v.2). I suggest
that it is still part of their penitential confession that in their unbelief
they stigmatised Him as 'a man of sorrows ...', though of course we treasure
this as a precious description of our crucified Lord. The following verses
acknowledge that now through faith, they appreciate that it was the sinners'
sorrows that He was bearing, but to my way of thinking this does not allow
us to think of the Lord Jesus as a Man who was characterised by sadness
or gloom. So far as His general condition was concerned -- apart from His
passion -- I believe that He was a joyful Person, "anointed with the oil
of joy above his fellows", who was as attractive to children as He was to
His disciples and as equally confided in by the upright young ruler as by
the rather despicable Zacchaeus. His face (later to be marred beyond human
likeness) must have radiated happiness and love.
If, then, He chose the way of grief it was wholly and solely out of
love for sinful men. Isaiah here not only portrays the fact of the crucifixion
but stresses the voluntary part in it played by the Sufferer. We marvel
at the willingness of the Father to lay our sin upon His beloved Son, but
we must marvel just as much when we are told what a willing Victim the Son
was. "He poured [109/110] out his soul unto death"
(v.12). I have said that in the matter of the cross the Father could claim:
'I did it!' This is just as true concerning the Son. The high priest could
boast, 'I did it', or Pontius Pilate could make his claim, 'I did it', and
in part this was the case. Above them all, however, the Servant of Jehovah
asserted, 'I did it'; this is implied in His public cry of triumph from
the cross, "It is finished!"
And as He submitted to the cruel act, how marvellously He fulfilled
the last words of this chapter in which Isaiah records, "He made intercession
for the transgressors" (v.12). The margin of my Bible makes the verb to
be in the present tense: "He maketh ...". He prayed on the cross and now
He prays on His throne. For us believers that last verse is a fitting close
to the passage; we are freed from our sins by His death, and we are maintained
in life by His constant ministry of intercession. How privileged we are
to hear this gospel! How miraculous it is that we have abandoned unbelief
and claimed the benefits of Christ's sacrifice! How gladly should we be
prepared to proclaim it to others!
4. The Final Solution
This phrase, 'the final solution' is frequently misused, but happily
in the case of sinful man's predicament it is fully justified, for Christ's
work on the cross is certainly a completely finished work. Verse 6 has the
unusual characteristic of beginning and ending with the same comprehensive
word, all: All have gone astray and all have been provided
for. The sins which He bore were our sins; the sorrows which He endured were
our sorrows; the blows which He suffered were what we deserved and the death
that He died was really our death.
Nevertheless Isaiah's principle of the remnant is as relevant here as
ever for, although the provision was made for all, not all will be saved.
The prophet records that God's righteous Servant will justify 'many', for
"He bare the sins of 'many' (vv.11-12), but 'many' is not all. Indeed the
tenor of this chapter is that it represents the confession of those who
had hitherto excluded themselves, those Israelites who misunderstood and
rejected the Lord's Servant, wrongly interpreting the shame of the cross
as God's anger with Jesus instead of realising that in fact it expressed
His wrath against themselves. They had been blind and unbelieving. 'We thought!'
they now cry, 'but we were wrong. What He suffered, He suffered for us; what
He accomplished, He did on our behalf. We now have peace and healing through
the stripes laid upon Him.' This is not the confession of men in general,
nor of Israelites as such, but it is valid only for repentant sinners to
whom the arm of the Lord has now been revealed.
Scripture is quite explicit about this matter. When speaking of salvation,
it makes it plain that there is provision for all, since Christ died for
(on behalf of) all (2 Corinthians 5:15), but when actual substitution is
being expressed, it is not 'instead of all' but rather 'instead of
the many' (Matthew 20:28). The Spirit is very precise in His use of
prepositions. It is only 'the many', the contrite believers, who can claim
that by His stripes they are healed. In a sense this chapter is a touchstone.
Anyone who sincerely and in a personal way embraces all that Isaiah has to
say here, may be sure of full and lasting salvation. It is concerning them
-- and only them- - that the prophecy is fulfilled that the Saviour will
see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.
These are they whose eyes have been opened to see that the sufferings
of the Crucified were endured in a substitutionary way for them personally.
Earlier on Isaiah had included among his promises of comfort the words:
"Thus saith the Lord, thy LORD, and thy God that pleadeth the cause of his
people, Behold I have taken out of thy hand the cup of staggering, even
the bowl of my fury; thou shalt no more drink it again" (51:22). In the immediate
context it was a consoling assurance that God was aware of how deeply the
captivity had drained the cup of His fury, and that He was now no longer
angry with them. In the context of Chapter 53, however, it has a much more
profound meaning. He has taken the cup of staggering and fury from us because
that cup was drained for us on Calvary by His Son who is our Saviour.
Death and the curse were in our cup;
O Christ, 'twas full for Thee;
But Thou hast drained the last dark drop,
'Tis empty now for me;
That bitter cup, love drank it up,
Now blessing's draught for me.
This, then, was Isaiah's gospel. Presumably it was chiefly to him that
Paul referred when he described the gospel as being that "Christ died for
our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried; and
that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures
" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Certainly this was the early Church's gospel;
"Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this scripture, preached unto
him Jesus" (Acts 8:35). It is our gospel. It is the only gospel!
THE Lord Jesus told two parables which were introduced by the phrase,
"A certain man had two sons", and in both of them He revealed the sad contradiction
which featured the son who at first sight might have seemed exemplary.
In the first case He described the son who answered, "I go, Sir" but never
went (Matthew 21:30) and in the other He referred to the elder son who refused
to respond to his father's entreaties to welcome the wrongdoer (Luke 15:28).
We rejoice at the gospel implications of the other sons, the one who at
first refused but then repented and obeyed (Matthew 21:29) and the pathetic
prodigal who repented and was welcomed back home (Luke 15:21), but perhaps
we ought to expose ourselves to the challenge provided by those brothers
The Son Who Said, Yes, Sir
In the first of these two stories, the son who said, "No, I will not",
afterwards repented and went into the vineyard to do the work which the father
had asked him to do. The other son, however, was so glad that he had said
'Yes' and added 'Sir' to his Yes, that he never noticed how little his actions
corresponded to his words. In fact he had more to repent of than the 'No-sayer'
but he did not repent of anything for he had said his wonderful words which
made him a 'Yes-sayer'.
Today 'Yes Lord' is said to a greater extent than perhaps ever before,
since there are so many meetings, reported with accompanying photographs,
which show large congregations, often with upraised arms, giving an enthusiastic
'Yes' to Jesus. It should not be overlooked that although it may seem wonderful
that crowds of young and old say 'Yes' to Jesus, that in itself is not
meritorious and not the end of the story. It is easy to say 'Yes, Lord',
especially in an atmosphere where everybody else is doing it, but in
everyday life it will be seen whether or not the words are borne
out by actions. Those who have said, 'Yes, Lord', will have committed themselves
to obey the Lord's commands. Anyone who says, 'Yes' ought to examine himself
as to whether, although he has nothing to repent of as to his words
, he may have as much to repent of as the man who said 'No', when it comes
to works . A person can rest so confidently in being a 'Yes-sayer'
that he drifts unconsciously into self-deception. We need to remember what
Hannah said in her prayer: "By the Lord actions are weighed" (1 Samuel 2:3).
The Son Who Was Unloving
The Lord Jesus said that no-one could understand His parables unless
it were given to him (Matthew 13:11), so we must not lightly assume that
we Christians can read the parable of the Prodigal Son and imagine that we
understand it without difficulty. It is more fitting that we should approach
the matter in fear and trembling so that in grace the Holy Spirit may give
us to understand something of the Lord's meaning.
First of all we need to note the apparent stupidity of the father's
behaviour. Would it not be irresponsible for a father to act as this one
did with his wayward son? If your son had wasted your money and lost his
morals in a depraved life and then, forced by circumstances, had come back
home to you, you would naturally do your best for him but you would never
give a ring and a best robe to him, nor would you issue invitations for
a celebration in his honour. Rather you would probably say, 'My son, I am
glad that you have come home, but you will understand that I cannot give
you much pocket-money for the present in case you are tempted again and fail.
You can certainly work with the others and if you make satisfactory progress
-- which is my hearty desire -- I will give you greater responsibility and
trust that you will not again succumb to the temptations which this world
offers. Let us pray together and commit the future to God's hands.' That
is how we would probably behave.
What is incomprehensible about the father in this parable is that without
misgivings of any kind, he fully restores his bewildered son and immediately
reinstates him in all his rights without condition or reserve of any kind.
It seems, then, that the love of God is quite different from any human
kind of love. If He -- like the father in the parable -- really restores
a depraved sinner the moment that the sinner comes to Him, and if He does
not reproach him about his past but immediately re-instates him as co-heir
with fully equal rights; if He does not first put him on probation, has
no anxiety about his future and, far from being ashamed of him, invites
friends and acquaintances to a party with music and dancing, then the love
of God has no comparison with anything here on earth. It is unique. If
God clothes such a man with the best robe, puts a costly ring on his finger
and is perfectly happy about him, then we really need another word beyond
the usual one of 'love' to describe His marvellous grace.
Such is the love of God. Indeed such is our God. No wonder that John
tells us that "God is love." It is difficult to describe something which
surpasses our thoughts and exceeds all our ideas, but it is surely right
for us to explain it by saying that God fully and completely trusts the power
of His own love. He trusts Himself. He knows that in His love He can transform
depraved sinners into the image of His perfect Son. In His case He expects
everything of Himself and nothing of the one beloved.
No earthly love can be like that; it would be weak and foolish for a
human parent so to act. An earthly father would be irresponsible if he did
not temper his love to the returned son with precautions, giving him a time
on trial, and not hiding his sorrowful and serious attitude. But the love
of God is stronger than sin and Satan and death, and it needs no extra precautions.
The only 'condition' that this love imposes is found in the words, "Abide
in my love" (John 15:9). No, God does not act irresponsibly when He calls
for a feast of joy on the occasion of the prodigal's return home and when,
without a single reproach or exhortation, He gives him a precious ornament
and establishes him as a rightful heir to all His glory, for God depends
only on Himself.
An earthly brother would probably act as this elder son did. He would,
perhaps, offer to help his wayward brother if only he behaved himself and
promised to work well and overcome his weaknesses. Being a good and dutiful
son he would be willing to help his weak and tainted brother to find his
feet, but he could hardly have been expected to celebrate with a jolly party.
As we have said, no earthly father would behave like this one, and we may
add that if he did the other son would seem to be justified in his resentment.
As to this upright son, we can only admire him. [112/113]
We would wish to be more like him. How I would like to be able to say,
as he said: "I have served you all these years, and I never transgressed
a commandment of yours.' (Luke 15:29). How I would like to say that, but I
cannot. Year by year he had faithfully served and never demanded his share
of the inheritance as his brother had done. Yet manifestly he was seriously
at fault. However much we might sympathise in his anger about the royal welcome
being given to the prodigal, we are forced to admit that he had entirely
lacked that love which his father displayed. It was not just that father's
love was greater, but that it was entirely different . It
was of a different quality. The two forms of love clashed because they could
never be in harmony. In the end, therefore, this hard-working son was actually
angry with his own father. So were the workers who had borne the heat and
burden of the day when the owner of the vineyard gave others just as much
as he gave them, though these had only worked for one hour (Matthew 20:1-16).
So we see that the good and seemingly devoted son was really in a bad
way unless he could exchange his faulty love for the true love of the father.
In fact he would be found to be without love in the deepest sense of the
word. His diligence and sacrifice really counted for nothing, since he lacked
the kind of love which animated the father and therefore had not truly pleased
the father and done his will. In this he showed himself to be no better
than the 'Yes-sayer' of the other parable and indeed rather worse, for that
son had just neglected to do the father's will while this elder brother
fought against it. He claimed never to have transgressed his father's commandments,
yet he was proved to be quite out of harmony with the father's wishes.
He lacked righteousness because he failed in the matter of love.
How easily we deceive ourselves! Only the Lord can read our hidden self-deceit,
and He does so by means of this parable, quietly and forcefully reminding
us that without pure and true love the most admirable activity means nothing
to God. We have clear teaching on this point in 1 Corinthians 13. The love
of God is not an enlarged version of the greatest love we know among men,
for it is altogether of a different character. While our love is always
dependent, to a greater or lesser degree, upon the one loved, divine love
is altogether independent of how the one loved behaves. It is so strong
that it can change and recreate even the most deeply degraded person until
he becomes like Jesus. Because God's love can safely trust its own ability
and power, it has no secret fear or anxiety.
In the parable the father does not say that the son has found his way
home again, but rather that he has been "found" (Luke 15:24 & 32).
It was not that the son on his own initiative had found the way back home,
but the love of God which by the divine initiative has sought and found
him. What is more, the father also announced that his son "was dead and is
alive again". It is obvious that he could not make himself alive; it is God
who in His love has done this wonder. The prodigal must have been overwhelmed
by this amazing love of his father. We do not hear any word from him. He
could hardly believe his own eyes and ears and had not a word to say.
It is impossible to describe the love of God. It surpasses our understanding.
And if the Holy Spirit convicts us of lovelessness and shows us our unsuspected
deceitfulness of heart, we still remember that even to the angry self-righteous
son the father expostulated: "Son, thou art ever with me, and all that
is mine is thine." Love can change the most unsatisfactory sons.
THE SPIRIT IN ROMANS 8
1. THE SPIRIT OF LIFE (Verses 1-11)
THIS passage is one of the greatest in Scripture and one way of understanding
the chapter is to realise that in it a great deal is said about the Holy
Spirit of God. Even in the last part of the chapter where the Spirit is
not actually mentioned, a great deal is said about His work. I suggest that
in this first section of eleven verses we think of Him as the Spirit of
Life. When we say this, it is not merely that He is the Giver of life but
also that He is the One who shapes the life which He gives to God's people.
He colours it. He determines its outlines and carries it through to its completion.
As Paul develops his argument through these opening verses, he leads us step
by step with increasing richness to grasp what this life is that God gives
to His children. Here we have four aspects of it:
1. The Life of Liberty
"There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ
Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from
the law of sin and of death." (verses 1 & 2)
As we begin to speak about these two verses I want you to notice that
we have to be careful in considering this matter of the Holy Spirit. In
some ways this is a truth which has been rediscovered in our churches in
recent times, this reality of the working of the Holy Spirit. The danger
is that over-concentration on the Third Person of the Trinity may unintentionally
supplant the other Two. There is the peril of thinking so much about the
Person and work of the Spirit that we cause Him to supplant the Son in the
minds of some. That should never be:
Christ is the end, for Christ was the beginning,
Christ the beginning, for the end is Christ.
As we shall see, when we come to the last part of the chapter, although
the Spirit is at work, what He is doing there is to point away from Himself
to Christ. In our two first verses we are dealing with the matter of the
Spirit of Life but, as we read, we find that this refers to those who are
"in Christ Jesus", and read of the law of the Spirit of life "in Christ
Jesus". This is an important phrase for it reminds us that although the
work is of the Holy Spirit, it is only for those who are "in Christ".
We are thinking about the law of freedom and are told that in Christ
Jesus there is no condemnation because in Him there is no longer any bondage
to the law. The first, no condemnation, is a fact, whereas the second, no
bondage, is an experience. The first which we experience is the second thing
which Paul writes about and he says that the assurance of the fact that there
is no condemnation if you are in Christ Jesus is found because in your experience
you find that there is no bondage to the law.
When you are in Christ Jesus you find that something has happened to
you and so you may be sure that there is no condemnation for you. To put
it the other way round, not in the order of experience but of logic, you
begin with the fact that there is no condemnation and afterwards you have
the effect, since you begin to discover in experience that you are no longer
in bondage to the law. It is as if, starting from your experience, you
find yourself on the upper floor of a building. You wake up, as it were,
in a room the window of which looks out with a view to the
[114/115] tops of people's heads and the tops of cars going by.
You are not quite sure how it has all happened, but you realise that at
some point in the past you must have gone up a flight of stairs or gone
up in a lift. You wonder how you got there, but your experience is now that
you are on this upper floor and know that somehow you were carried upstairs
to be there. Your experience is that you are no longer in bondage to the
law of sin and of death, and this must mean that you have been lifted on
to a new realm. There can be no condemnation for you since you are no longer
on that lower floor of condemnation from God.
We may ask what is this law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus which
sets us free from the law of bondage to sin and death. I suppose that you
might think of it as a kind of principle, but of course this second reference
to a law refers to the Old Testament law which said, 'Thou shalt not do
this, thou shalt do that.' If you break the commandments of that law you
are under condemnation. But what about the law of the Spirit of life? Some
would say that it does not sound at all like that old kind of law but a
sort of power at work which does things for you.
I want to suggest, however, that perhaps it is the very same law in
both cases, that in both halves of that verse Paul is talking about the
law that God gave, and which is found in its fullness in the Old Testament.
God gave Moses this law to regulate the life of His people and, though
from one point of view this is the law of sin and of death, from another
point of view it is the law of the Spirit of life; it all depends how you
look at it. That law in itself, as it stands alone, is indeed the law of
sin and death which leads to bondage. It is a law from which we are never
free. It is the same law about which Paul had been speaking in Chapter 7:
"What shall we say then? Is the law sin?" No, that was not what I am saying.
"Yet if it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin."
"I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came,
sin revived and I died" (7:9). The very commandment which promised life proved
to be death to me because, at every point when I tried to obey that law,
I discovered that I couldn't do so. It was the law of sin and of death to
me, it was the law which held me in bondage and from which I could not escape.
But the law itself is good -- it is God's law: "The law is holy, and the
commandment is holy, and righteous and good" (v.12). If I look at it from
the other side, so to speak, I find that this very same law which for me
became the law of sin and death is nevertheless the law of Christ. It is,
in fact, if I am in Christ, the law of the Spirit of life. It is something
How else could the psalmist speak of it with such delight, indeed affection?
"Oh how I love thy law" he wrote, "it is my meditation all the day" (Psalm
119:97). You know how again and again in that psalm, the author affirms
how he loves that law, how delightful it is, how he relishes it. To him
it is as sweet as honey and as precious as gold, it is wonderful. Yet he
is talking about the Old Testament which condemns a person as soon as he
tries to live by it. It seems that David is obviously looking at that very
law from the other point of view. He is saying in his heart (though I don't
know that he expressed this anywhere in his psalms): 'I realise as soon as
I try to keep that law (I find) that I cannot do so, but what a marvellous
thing it is! When God, by His power, enables me to keep it, how happy I am!'
Really that is what Paul is saying here about the law of the Spirit of life.
It is a delightful thing, once I am able to keep it.
2. The Life of Righteousness
"For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh,
God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned
sin in the flesh; that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled
in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit." (verses
3 & 4)
The next verses tell us what this life in Christ is -- "What the law
could not do -- God did!" [115/116] Concerning this
life of righteousness God did something which no-one else could do. If we
ask how He did it, the answer is by sending His Son to put away sin so that
the Spirit could enable us who are no longer under condemnation because of
sin to fulfil the righteous requirements of His holy law. That is what God
did and that is what the law could never do. Moreover He also sent His Spirit
to apply Christ's redemptive work.
The first thing He did was to send His Son "in the likeness of sinful
flesh and as an offering for sin." He did not send His Son in the likeness
of flesh, because Jesus really did take flesh, He really was truly human.
Nor did He send Him as sinful flesh, for Jesus was never sinful. We note
how carefully Paul chooses his words, assuring us that Christ came in
the likeness of sinful flesh.
May I offer an illustration? It is a strange thing, but I think of the
condemnation of God as perhaps being like one of those fearful guided missiles,
weapons which have a homing device. Such a weapon will never fail to strike
its target, however much that target twists and turns to get away. The condemnation
of God will always eventually home in on the sinner. However He sent His
Son in the likeness of that very sinful flesh at which the weapon was aiming.
The sin in me was the target of that weapon of God's condemnation and it
was bound to hit its target, but God sent His Son to come, as it were, in
front of the target. He had no sin in Himself, but He places Himself as
a kind of clear, transparent human shape in front of me so that when that
homing device brings the missile of God's condemnation straight home in
my direction, He receives it. Christ stands in front of me so that the
condemnation falls on Him and I am spared. So it was that He sent His own
Son in the form of sinful flesh to stand right in front of me in the way
of divine wrath, so dealing with all my sin.
But that is only half of what God did. He sent His Spirit so that by
Him I would be enabled to fulfil the righteous requirements of the law so
that now I might live a righteous life in Christ. The whole object of the
exercise is righteousness. With sin now condemned, we find the Spirit so
enabling us that bit by bit we are increasingly enabled to live according
to God's holy law. It is the same law. It is the law which used to condemn
us which is now the law of the Spirit of life for us and we find that we can
actually fulfil it. That was the whole object of God's redemptive scheme,
a life of righteousness which the Spirit of Christ gives to the children
We can see in Paul, as in David and throughout the Scriptures, a passionate
love of this thing called righteousness. It is not a common word. You won't
hear it much outside of the walls of churches in our days. It simply means
that things are as they ought to be. God knows how they ought to be. He
has laid this down in His law. It is not that He wants to be a killjoy or
a spoil-sport, but He knows what is good for man and shows him how he ought
to live. It is not only the right way to live; it is the good way as the
psalmist could see when he delighted in it. This is the way of joy, of happiness
and of fulfilment.
This was the kind of thing which Jesus was speaking about in the Sermon
on the mount. He said: "Don't imagine that I came to abolish the law; I
came to fulfil it." And so we find that at the end of that talk He said:
"Seek ye first his kingdom and his righteousness." The sending of the Son
and the sending of the Spirit were for this purpose. The Son was sent to
take away my sin and deliver me from the condemnation of God and the Spirit
was sent to enable me to live a righteous life. This is what the law could
not do, but God did it.
3. The Life of Distinctiveness
Verses 5 to 9 remind us that the New Testament tells us that this new
life in the Spirit is to be one of distinctiveness. The Lord Jesus emphasised
this when He said that it had been said what the law declared, but He explained
what it really meant. God's people are to be specially consecrated to Him.
Redemption makes righteousness not just as a thing to be aimed at but it
is stated as a fact which already exists in the case of the man in Christ.
God tells us that He wants us to be distinctive because in fact that is
what we are. [116/117]
"They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but
they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit" (verse 5). I am
quite sure that there are many honest and sincere Christians who come to
this statement and say, 'Well, sometimes I am one and sometimes I am the
other. When I read what Paul says about walking according to the flesh and
walking according to the Spirit, I have to confess that sometimes I walk
according to the Spirit, but all too often I reckon that I walk according
to the flesh. Sometimes I do the right thing, but much more often I think
that I do the wrong thing.'
Maybe that is how you think about this as we embark on this section
of verse 5 to 9. Perhaps the Lord will clarify the truth for us. I think
of myself in the chair of my optician, needing new lenses for my glasses.
He puts on an enormous hefty great framework, like my spectacles only ten
times more so, and then begins to slot various lenses into the holes. At
first the dreadful blur is still a blur, but not quite so much of one. And
then it begins to get a little clearer and then clearer still until at last,
after a whole series of lenses have been put in, I suddenly find that I can
see everything in the sharpest outline. As we work through verse 5 to 9,
maybe we start with this blurred idea that sometimes we walk according to
the flesh and sometimes we walk according to the Spirit, but each verse will
put an extra lens in front of us and so enable us to see more clearly what
God's Word is saying.
Verse 5. "They that are after the flesh do mind the things of
the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit."
What Paul is saying is that those who are according to the flesh have the
flesh's mind, while those who are according to the Spirit have the Spirit's
mind. Now it is not quite clear whether this implies that the sort of person
you are determines what you do, or whether what you do shows what you are.
This does not matter very much but I think that it means that what you are
determines what you do. If you are after the flesh, you mind the things
of the flesh, but if you are after the Spirit, you mind the things
of the Spirit. Having got this, we pass on into the next verse.
Verse 6. "For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of
the Spirit is life and peace." It follows that if you have the mind of the
flesh, you are on the road to death. If, however, according to verse 5, you
have the mind of the Spirit, you are on your way to life. Is it becoming
just a little clearer?
Verse 7. "the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it
is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be;" In other words,
if you walk according to the flesh you are an irredeemable rebel against
God's way. 'Well', you may say, 'I hope I am not that! In fact I know that
I am not.' Well, that is what the verse says.
Verse 8. We move on, reading "And they that are in the flesh
cannot please God." Note the stress on the word cannot. If you live
according to the flesh, that means death, rebellion and an inability to
please God. Is that you? I honestly do not think that it is I and, if you
are one of God's people, I don't think that it is you either. Let me take
Verse 9. "But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if
so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. But if any man hath not the
Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." The apostle says, 'Now, I don't want
you to have any doubts about yourself. You are not actually in the flesh.
If the Spirit of God dwells in you, then you are in the Spirit. That is the
kind of person I am talking about, and that is the kind of division which
I am talking about. Now, do you have the Spirit of Christ in you? If the
Spirit is in you, then you are in the Spirit, and all that I have said about
the mind of the flesh does not apply to you.'
Have you got this clear now? There is a polarity here; there is a division
which you will find again and again in the writings of John, but which
is here now in the writings of Paul. It is as if he says, 'I know that
in practical experience your life may be full of grey features rather than
black and white. I know that you often feel undecided and uncertain, and
actually you know that you do commit sin. I know that you are conscious
of breaking the law, but here we are thinking about a basic division, the
same as that described by the Lord Jesus when He affirmed: "He that is not
with me, is against me" and "he that is not against me is for me."'
[Verses 10 & 11 are discussed in the next issue.]
(To be continued) [117/118]
CHRIST'S RETURN TO THE JORDAN
"He went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John
was at the first baptising; and there he abode." John 10:40
THE Gospels rarely speak of Jesus staying in one place for more than
a day or two, but in this case the implication seems to be that He not only
re-visited the nostalgic region of His baptism but actually remained there
for a period. It is possible that He chose the spot as a convenient refuge
from the murderous attempts upon His life in Judea, but to me the significance
of the locality was that it was where He had first begun His public ministry.
What more natural and what more seemly than that, as the Lord was about
to complete His life's work on the cross, He should spend a short period
in the very same place in which He had begun it? Not that He would indulge
in anything merely sentimental. He must have had reasons for this return
to Jordan. What is more, the Holy Spirit must have had reasons for inspiring
the apostle John to add this to those many extra incidents which are found
in his Gospel.
To Reap a Harvest
Was this one of His reasons? It was not only Jesus who remembered those
early days; many of those who visited Him there did the same. The dead
are often soon forgotten, but certain local associations may bring them
back vividly to memory. In this case the old baptismal scene brought back
a flood of recollections and appreciation. Concerning this now glorified
servant of God, the people said to one another: "John indeed did no miracle:
but all things whatsoever John spoke of this man were true."
I can think of no greater commendation than this. For my part I could
desire no better epitaph. Miracles at best are nine-day wonders, but a
faithful testimony concerning the Lord Jesus is of lasting virtue, even
after death. It was certainly so in this case.
Earlier on Jesus has said to His disciples: "One soweth, and another
reapeth. I sent you to reap that whereon ye have not laboured: others have
laboured, and ye are entered into their labour" (John 4:37-38). I have often
puzzled as to just what the Lord meant by these words about the others who
had laboured, and the only valid explanation which occurs to me is that He
was alluding to the work of John the Baptist. If so, how fitting that He
Himself should return to that historic locality to reap where John had sown!
The people came in their crowds, not to commemorate John but to meet the
Jesus of whom he had testified. "Many", so we are told, "believed on Him
What an encouragement this can be to us all! How gratifying if the verdict
on our lives could be that we were not wonderful people who had done signs,
but that a harvest had been reaped where we had sowed, even though we did
not live to see it. In these days of publicity we somehow feel ourselves
to be failures if our words do not meet with instant success. In John's
case it was not only true that he did no miracle but that also God did
no miracle for him. He felt himself to have been a failure, but this incident
reveals the true effectiveness of his witness. [118/119]
In a sense he had sown himself and he finished his life in apparent
eclipse. We know that the Lord Jesus never forgot him and took the opportunity
of publicly commending him; now we observe that He further made sure to
go back to that very place of John's ministry to gather in the harvest of
his sowing. Jesus went there and stayed there while "many came unto him."
To Confirm His Baptism
In Christ's baptism in water by John, He had symbolised the deeper baptism
of the cross. The divine reaction was immediate: the Father voiced His
delight and the Spirit came down upon Him in fullness. All this happened
by Jordan. It is most noteworthy that before His actual crucifixion the
Lord Jesus spoke frequently about bearing the cross, making it clear that
this was not only a matter of His great atoning sacrifice but of a life-style
based on the denial of self. "If any man would come after me", He said, "let
him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Luke 9:23).
To the Lord Jesus, baptism meant not only death to sin but death also to
self. Toward the end of His earthly life He could claim that He had never
departed from the basic meaning of His baptism. When we were baptised, this
is what we were committed to do: to die to self and live only to the will
As we read on into John 11, we find there an example of how Jesus said
'No' to Himself and took up His 'cross'. There is no question but that the
heart-rending appeal from Martha and Mary, as it reached Him there by Jordan,
must have made Him long to hasten to their help. "He whom thou lovest is
sick" was the urgent message sent to Him by the two sisters, who never doubted
that His special love for Lazarus and for them would bring Him posthaste to
Bethany. "If only thou hadst been here" both of them complained when at last
He did appear on the scene. 'If only!' Why had He deliberately delayed?
Now Jesus was a true Man: His was a genuine humanity. It must therefore
have been excruciatingly painful to His human emotions not to respond at
once to that desperate appeal from His beloved friends. When He did arrive
at Bethany He was so moved emotionally that He groaned and wept. Why then
do we read that "When he heard that he was sick, he abode two days in
the place where he was" (v.6)? That same place! There can only be one
explanation, namely, that He was saying 'No' to Himself and submitting to
the guidance of the Spirit and the will of the Father. As I have said, the
cross calls for death to self, even to the sinless Self of Jesus. The voices
of His friends entreated Him to say 'Yes', but the more important factor
of His complete repudiation of His own thoughts and wishes in the waters
of baptism, resulted in a costly acceptance of the will of the Father.
The ultimate result was, of course, what He said it would be, glory
for God and for Himself, the Son of God (11:4). This is always the case
if we will only keep true to our baptism. The example of the Lord Jesus
in this case makes me wonder how often I may have beclouded the glory of
God by my impulsive actions and uncrucified mind. On occasions I meant well,
but that is little comfort if, by contradictions of my basic committal to
the will of God on the basis of my baptism, I have failed to be sufficiently
sensitive to the Spirit's restraints. It was not only in the Garden but
all through His earthly life that the Lord Jesus said, "Nevertheless, not
as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matthew 26:39). On that last occasion He prayed
the same prayer three times.
We worship Him for this. Surely, however, there is a basic lesson for
us all in the Lord's steadfastness always to go the way of the cross. We
can look back to the time, and perhaps even to the actual place, when we
first committed ourselves to the will of God. If we could go back there
now, to the scene of our conversion or our baptism, could we truthfully
claim to have followed that in our life-style? Alas none of us can. We thank
God that our Saviour answers for our failures. But a little spiritual nostalgia
might be a profitable exercise, as we "call to remembrance the former days"
(Hebrews 10:32). [119/120]
The cross is never merely negative. Those extra days were far from wasted,
as Jesus remained by the Jordan. On the contrary, they led to the most
significant miracle that the Lord ever performed. We know from His own
words by the graveside of Lazarus that He had been praying (verse 41). With
hindsight all concerned would have admitted that it had been most worthwhile
for the Lord to have waited there in the place where at first John had been
This to Christ, and to us also, is the basis upon which the Father can
find pleasure in us and the Holy Spirit remain in His fullness upon us, the
basis of the cross. Some may regard it as a mere coincidence if it was there
by Jordan that Jesus waited those extra days. None, however, can deny that
on every occasion the Lord Jesus fully lived out the principles of His baptism
in His everyday life. We are to follow His steps. We are to walk as He walked.
For those few days He stayed there at the place of baptism. Spiritually
we must seek grace to return to our spiritual beginnings and always to stay
"Prove me now ... saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the
windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing ..." (Malachi 3:10).
The believers of Malachi's day thought that tithing was a thing of the
past; it sounded nice in religious history, but they did not think that it
was practical in their day. It is always practical and it is always open
to proof. 'Put God to the proof' urged Malachi, 'and do it now. Give honestly,
give gladly, give freely to God, and the very windows of heaven will open
to you in overflowing blessing.'
With this challenge from Malachi the Old Testament closes. The New Testament
records how the whole tithe was brought in, first by the Lord Jesus and
then by His people, and there can be no doubt that the windows of heaven
were wide open for them in those early days of Christianity.
Daily Thoughts on Bible Characters [Harry Foster]
[Inside back cover]
OLD TESTAMENT PARENTHESES (18)
"(Now I was cupbearer to the king)" Nehemiah 1:11 R.V.
THIS sentence is placed between brackets in my Bible, though not in
some other versions. Nevertheless it seems worthy of a place among our
collection. It follows an eloquent and moving prayer. It also precedes
a bold action. Prayers should be the basis of our actions but never an
excuse for inaction.
WHEN Nehemiah had finished praying he seems suddenly to have recalled
his personal condition: "Now I was cupbearer ...". It may be that he was
appalled at his own helplessness. What hope had a man in his position of
ever being able to go off to join the returned exiles in Jerusalem? Moreover,
what could his type of man contribute to the work of recovery? What could
a soft palace official do in the great task of conflict and re-building?
ALL of us know the feeling of hopelessness which can come over us when,
after rising to great heights in our prayers, we come down to earth and
realise what poor material we are for the great work about which we have
been praying. Whether this is what happened or not, it is certainly true
THERE is, however, another explanation of Nehemiah's parenthetical note.
It may be that he realised that the unattractive job which had been forced
upon him could be the very key to Jerusalem's problem. In his position
of trust in the palace, he could perhaps gain the King's ear and speak
up for the interests of his God.
HE had been praying for some months when he came to the day of resolution.
"... prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day ...". The king,
after all, was only a man, whereas his Lord was "the God of heaven" (2:4).
SURE enough, that very day the occasion arose for him to lodge his appeal.
He apparently showed signs of his inner tension, for prayer does not always
free us from natural emotions, but the Lord used this to arouse the suspicions
of the king and provoke the question which led to his release for the task.
So, in answer to prayer -- both the laboured intercessions of the months
and the ejaculatory petition of the moment -- the king's butler became the
LATER, when Nehemiah wrote this story, he must have looked back in wonder.
He had not had to break away from his palace job -- indeed he could not
do so -- but prayer had released him and set him on his way of service for
God. He thought of what he was -- cupbearer to a heathen king; and then
what God had made of him -- an honoured instrument for the recovery of the
Lord's testimony in the earth.
THERE seems to be no limit to God's power. It does not matter what we
are in ourselves; what is all important is what God can make of us if we
only persevere in the place of prayer.
WORSHIP GOD! FOR THE TESTIMONY OF
JESUS IS THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY.
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