|Vol. 18, No. 2, Mar. - Apr. 1989
||EDITOR: Mr. Harry Foster
TREASURE IN EARTHEN VESSELS
J. Alec Motyer
3. OUR GOAL AND OUR AIM
(2 Corinthians 5:1-10)
WHAT does the future hold for us? I do not mean what will happen to us
today or tomorrow with their buffetings or pleasures. I do not mean a diary
account of our future days on earth. Looking right forward into the more
distant future, what sort of programme can we foresee in the light of Scripture?
The prayer of the Lord Jesus points on to this future: "Father, that which
You have given me, I will, that where I am, they also may be with me that
they may behold my glory". The verses in 2 Corinthians 5 which we will now
consider deal with this very matter. We are home-sick for our permanent home
which is from heaven, and in case we think that this glorious destiny is
too good to be true, the Spirit inspired Paul to affirm that "He that wrought
us for this very thing is God."
The first five verses give us a broad understanding of the future of
the people of God. We must note that our life here on earth is a continuing
preparation for eternity. If the Lord gives us one minute longer down here,
or five minutes or a week, or a month or a year or many years, it will all
be a continuing work of preparing us for the glory. We have already been
told (4:17) that every blow that life inflicts on the earthen vessel only
fits it for a corresponding -- or better, a preponderating -- glory. That
is what will go on right to the end or our earthly life.
And after that? Well, for many believers there will be the demolition
of the tent-house. But notice that Paul says. "If this earthly tent-house
is demolished". It will not be true of everybody. The Lord may come at any
minute and then it will be the joy and delight of going without dying. We
look for His Coming but we are well aware that for many the tent-house will
be demolished, the wonderful unity of body and soul which we now enjoy by
the will of God will he ended. The body will drop to the ground and the soul
will depart to be with Christ which is by far the best, as Paul assures us.
But that cannot be the ultimate, since the creational purpose of God was
a body-soul unity. The redemption that we have in Christ Jesus is a redemption
of the whole person, not just parts of the person.
The Scriptures tell us of a resurrection body which will be the real
completion of all things. The Bible says that the living will rise to meet
the returning Christ, but it says that they will rise with the additional
thrill of finding that the dead in Christ have risen first. Clearly the
spirit which has gone to be with Christ is to have a new body, not unrelated
to the old earthly body. There will be wholeness with the new resurrection
When, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul speaks of this, even he has to depart
from plain statement to illustration, because presumably God did not give
him the revelation of just what would happen. So he writes that when people
ask him with what body the redeemed will come, it is really a silly question.
Men plant a bare grain, and then God gives it a body as it pleases Him. Every
seed has a body that is exactly right for it, a body that is its own, so
that out of that unpromising thing which lies buried in the ground there comes
a glory that the human mind could never have imagined if the eye had not
seen it. The body that will be is not unrelated to the body that now is.
The Lord Jesus will gather all together so that the soul which is with Him
will be united with a glorious body that is like His resurrection body. Then
the impermanent will be changed into the solid and the lasting. Here we have
a tent-house; there we will have a house not made with hands, eternal in
the heavens. [21/22]
A WELL-GROUNDED HOPE
The first four verses are devoted to this hope in its various aspects
and then verse 5 puts a rock of assurance under the hope that he has depicted.
Lest we should think that it is all too good to be true, he tells us that
God has made us for this very thing. Notice that he does not say that the
thing is wrought for us, which could allow for a possibility of failure,
but rather says that it is we who have been so made. God has made us with
eternity in mind, and He has proved this by giving us the down-payment who
is the Holy Spirit.
That is why Paul follows with one of his important "therefores": "Being
therefore of good cheer" (v.6). This is a phrase used by the Lord Jesus.
It tells us that there is no need to be afraid; for we can have absolute peace
and assurance. I should perhaps remind you that when the Bible uses the word
"hope", it refers to something quite certain as to its accomplishment, though
uncertain as to its timing. This is quite the reverse from us. We say, "I
am going to the seaside tomorrow and I hope that it will be fine", being
quite certain as to the timing which will be tomorrow and rather uneasy as
to whether our hope will be realised. When the Bible speaks of hope it offers
absolute certainty of the fact, though leaving us in the dark as to when
that fact will be realised.
1. The hope of Permanence and Security (Verse 1)
"We know that if our earthly tent-house be demolished, we have an eternal
building ..." The total impact of this verse is the passing over from that
which is perishable to that which is imperishable. The tent rots away --
the house stands. The promise is that we will be in an entirely new environment
and situation, the earthly having been replaced by the heavenly. We will
have wholly new strength and durability. And what is more, we will have a
wholly new Christ-likeness, a house not made with hands.
Now in every true sense our present bodies are God-made and God-provided.
Why are our bodies as they are? Because God so created and planned them:
"God blended the body together" (1 Corinthians 12:24). The balance, proportion,
symmetry and functioning of our body is a design of God. Paul uses our ordinary
physical construction as a picture of the Church, but he can only do so because
of what is actually true of the human body. So we may rightly say that our
present body is made without hands; it is not of human construction. What,
then, does the apostle mean when he tells us that we will have a future body
which is not made with hands?
We turn to the Lord Jesus and we find that at His trial the false witnesses
stood up "bearing false witness against Him, saying, We heard him say, I
will destroy this Temple that is made with hands and in three days I will
build another made without hands" (Mark 14:57). Up to a point that was exactly
what the Lord Jesus had said, but we are told that He spoke to them of His
body as the true temple. That is the reality of the building which is made
without hands; it is the resurrection body or the Lord Jesus.
So in addition to the other contrasts found in verse 1, we have the new
circumstances whereby the earthly environment becomes the heavenly in which
there is strength and solidity by the tent becoming a building. But we also
have a new Christ-likeness, since the Scripture promises us a body that will
match the Lord's body, the one which is made without hands: "We expect a
Saviour from heaven who will change the bodies that humiliate us, so that
they may become like the body that is His glory" (Philippians 3:20-21). And
all this on a permanent basis. Gone will be the fading and failing away that
is our earthly portion; gone the ageing that brings decay. Gone for ever in
the realisation of our well-grounded hope of permanence.
2. The Hope of Completeness or Fulfilment (Verse 2)
Verse 2 rightly begins with the word "for" -- "For verily". We catch
the meaning intended by Paul if we emphasise the main verb "to groan". There
is no use looking away from the fact that ours is an existence in which we
do groan. So many Christians will not recognise this. They tend to live in
a fool's paradise, refusing to face the facts and expecting to enjoy full
heavenly benefits before they get to heaven and rid themselves of earthly
In this tent we do groan. It is a groaning existence. We groan
because sorrows are heaped upon us; we groan because limitations come
[22/23] flooding in on us; we groan because of pains and difficulties.
In this habitation we verily groan. With realism, but with kindness and pastoral
care for our souls, Paul tells us that we can look forward to a future hope,
even while we groan in this present tabernacle. But the particular thought
here is that we groan because we long to be different, we groan because
we are homesick to be clothed upon with our habitation which is from on
high (Verse 4). There is so much inadequacy here and there is perfect adequacy
waiting for us there.
We notice now that Paul has changed his metaphor, passing from the tent
to the putting on of clothes. The verb "to be clothed upon" appears once
in the New Testament as a noun, and it means a top-coat. We read in John 21
of the disciples coming back across the lake in the early morning, having
spent the night fruitlessly, without catching anything, and hearing the Lord
calling to them to cast their net on the right side of the ship. When they
had that marvellous catch of large fish, the disciple whom Jesus loved said
to Peter, "It is the Lord". It was then that Peter put on his top-coat. It
says that he was naked, but really he was, as more recent versions tells
us, "stripped for work". He had taken off the more clogging outer garments
that he might be more fit for the work of hopefully catching fish. He was
inadequately clothed, so in order to be presentable to the Lord he had to
clothe himself adequately for the situation. In the wonderful blending together
of Scripture, this gives us the exactly right focus for Paul's words: "For
we verily groan, longing to be clothed upon" so that we will be ready to meet
In the Bible clothing is a picture of what a person is and what a person
is for; it is a very particular and precise metaphor. When a bride and bridegroom
wear the special clothes for the great day, they are not pretending to be
bride and bridegroom by wearing suitable attire for the occasion. They
are the bride and bridegroom and their clothes manifest the fact.
That is exactly what the metaphor or picture of clothing means in the Bible.
When, for instance, the Lord met Joshua before Jericho, He appeared in armour
to stress the fact that He actually was the Captain. It was as though He
said to Joshua, "I have not put on this armour as a pretence, but have put
it on because I really am the Captain of the Lord's hosts. I am making
a declaration or a revelation to you of what My inner nature is."
It is with this thought behind him that Paul now says that we long to
be clothed upon with our new habitation. We long for the adequate clothing
which in itself is a full outward expression of what we really are in Christ.
"If so be ..." (verse 3) means, "Since that is so" and reminds us that
everything here that speaks of the incomplete and insufficient, even the
unworthy and inadequate, will be gone and the totality of the full nature
that is ours in Christ will be expressed and enjoyed. We will be clothed
upon. Every time we now cry out, sometimes in an agony of spirit and almost
despair, "Oh that I were different! Oh that things were different!", we are
to know that there is going to be a difference when all the inadequacies
and insufficiencies will be things of the past. We are to know total fulfilment,
being fashioned according to our new nature.
3. The End of Mortality (Verse 4)
In one of his magnificent utterances Paul tells us that "what is mortal
shall be swallowed up by life." In the Bible the idea of being swallowed
up is a picture of total disappearance. Everything is gone and forgotten.
Every evidence of mortality will be totally and finally gone, with nothing
remaining but vista after vista of life surrounding the people of God. "For
indeed, we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened ..." The previous
groaning partly arose out of a longing that we might be fulfilled in heaven
in Christ, but here the groaning arises out of the sheer pressure that life
on earth brings upon us. Note the contrast: "We groan, longing ...
" and "We groan, being burdened ..." There is a difference of direction.
WE not only groan because we wish we were in the realm of perfection,
but we also groan because we are now in the imperfect and feel the weight
and burden of it all. The Scripture is beautifully practical and therein
lies its comfort. At a time of bereavement, people have often apologised
because they were weeping. As a matter of fact it is more inevitable that
Christians weep than non-Christians, since in our case the new nature has
begun to sharpen our emotions. [23/24] We are sharper
in our hope of glory, but we are also sharpened in our sense of loss.
"Heaven above is softer blue, earth around is sweeter green; something
lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen"! That is one side of
our new nature, but there is also a sharpness of sorrow that Christless emotions
will never feel. So of course we weep. Did not Jesus weep? When the Bible
speaks of our groaning, it does not pass any comment and suggest that we
should not do so. It does not rebuke our groaning, but allows us our tears.
Of all the lovely pictures of God in the Bible, there is the one which depicts
Him as having a divine handkerchief: "God shall wipe away every tear from
their eyes" (Revelation 7:17). It is as though He will come very close, saying
to us: "It has been tough going for you, hasn't it? You have been groaning.
Beloved child, you will groan no more", Every trace of mortality swallowed
up. Only life remains to he enjoyed.
Verse 5 then tells us of the ground of our hope: "He who has wrought
us for this very thing is God". God has worked us out for this very thing.
This is the same word which Paul uses when he writes, "Work out your own
salvation" (Philippians 2:12). He tells us to get busy with the nitty gritty
of this great salvation which God has given us. He will never give us more
than He has already given us now, but we must get busy and work it out in
detail, making sure to experience and enjoy what He has given. He has wrought
us for glory.
See how sure our hope is. It is not just a matter of wishful thinking.
Here we have a beautiful past tense. God is not working any longer, in a
sense; it is not so much that He is busy now. He has wrought us. For
Him the matter is signed, sealed and settled. The Saviour is seated. The
work is over. That is why one of our great hymn writers could help us sing
that we will be more happy in heaven but we cannot be more secure, even when
we are glorified with Him in heaven.
The Holy Spirit is the guarantee and the Guarantor of this situation.
He comes to live in every believing child of God and is God's down-payment
of what will yet be. When God gives His Holy Spirit to those who are in Christ,
it is a sign of a special relationship: we are sealed as truly His. He brings
the promise of all the good things to come, sealing us with a view to the
redemption of God's special possession. Meanwhile His strength and sufficiency
are enough for us day by day.
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE HOPE
When we come to Verses 6 to 10, we are reminded that privilege brings
responsibility. The section begins with a note of confidence. Of course we
are always confident. We cannot lose what we haven't made. And we cannot
forfeit what God's will has already given us. We rest upon the revealed purpose
of God which is already completed in Christ. But there is another side to
this whole matter and it is the most wonderful of all.
We have considered our hope and the prospect of fulfilment in our case,
but we have not yet touched on the central glory of heaven. The centre of
heaven is not the experience of the fullness of redemption and delight in
the life of God to be experienced by us. The centre of heaven is the Lord
Jesus. For the moment we walk by faith and not by sight, but we are of good
courage and "are willing rather to be absent from the body and to be at home
with the Lord", (Verse 8). Need I say more? Heaven is to be at home with
The Lord's words to His Father as a kind of testament were, "Father ...
I will that they which thou hast given me, shall be with me where I am ...
that they may behold my glory" (John 17:24). If then, we are expecting this,
as indeed we are, is it not a point of honour with us, dear brothers and
sisters, so to live in this life that we may be a delight to Him when we stand
before Him? Our privilege matches our responsibility. Now and every day it
should be a point of honour with us so to live in things temporal that we
may stand unashamed when we meet Him, "For", says verse 10, "we must all
be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ." We will then appear
in our true colours, for that is what the word "manifest" implies. What have
we done with our days of grace? What have we done since we first came to know
Christ? He will delight us; we want to delight Him. We are to make this our
aim. We could translate this, "We are ambitious" but I prefer this other translation,
"We make it a point of honour". This is our responsibility.
(To be continued)
HINDERED OR HELPED
"We would fain have come unto you, I Paul once and again;
but Satan hindered us" 1 Thessalonians 2:18
THIS may sound like defeatism. Is it possible that the great man of faith,
Paul, should pen such a confession as this? "I wanted to go. I planned to
go. Again and again I prayed to go. But Satan stopped me!" What can we make
There are professing Christians who doubt the existence of a personal
Devil. There are some true Christians who sincerely believe that it is during
this present age that Satan is bound and shut away as is described in Revelation
20:3. I have to disagree. For my part I note that both James (4:7) and Peter
(1 Peter 5:9) instruct me to resist the Devil, and that John, while stating
that the Son of God was manifested to destroy his works, yet closes his First
Epistle with the grave reminder: "We know that ... the whole world is in
the power of the evil one" (1 John 5:19).
From time to time Paul makes references to this evil entity called Satan.
This concession, however, is a startling one: "Satan stopped me!" We know
Satan as the tempter (1 Thessalonians 3:5) and the accuser (Revelation 12:10)
and are not surprised to have him described as the hinderer. But we do not
expect him to be successful with God's people, least of all in the case of
Christ's chosen apostle. But Paul's statement is clear, and put in the blunt
words of the N.I.V. it states: "Satan stopped us." Paul most earnestly wished
to revisit Thessalonia and felt sincerely that such a visit was a spiritual
necessity for the church there. Nevertheless he failed to go.
It is of course possible that eventually, on his third missionary journey,
Paul was able to call in on the Thessalonians, but as this is not recorded,
we are left with the stark proposition that this satanic obstacle was never
overcome. It would be nice to have it recorded that the stoppage was only
temporary, and that Paul's prayerful longing was satisfied by a further visit
to the beloved church there, but we have no sure information. We are just
left with the Scripture simply stating that Satan was able to stop Paul
from making that journey.
It would be easy to opine that since God overrules all Satan's activities,
this hindrance was similar to the time when the Spirit of Jesus prevented
Paul from journeying into Asia (Acts 16:7), but there is no such indication
in Paul's letter. He just wrote: "Satan stopped me". What can we say to that?
Instead of embarking on some speculative explanation, I find it more inspiring
to offset this problem by considering the whole Letter and discovering what
Satan did not and could not do. We see that:
1. He could not stop prayer.
In almost the same breath with which the apostle reported this setback,
he went on to describe his own reactions: "For what thanksgiving can we render
again to God for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before
our God; night and day praying exceedingly ..." (3:9-10). It is always the
Devil's aim to stop prayer, but we thank God that he cannot do that. If
we will, we can go on praying, as Paul certainly did. In the Old Testament
we read how Satan did his utmost to hinder Daniel's intercessions, but he
completely failed (Daniel 6). In the New Testament we read how he used Herod's
cruelty to dishearten the Jerusalem [25/26] church,
but he only succeeded in driving them to increased prayer (Acts 12:5).
Satan can and does stifle prayer, but when that happens the fault is
not with him but with us. We are the ones who stop. We may do so because
there seems to be no sign of an answer from God and we succumb to our own
feelings that we lack faith. Actually faith has nothing to do with feelings
but everything to do with the character of our God. I imagine that Paul
felt deeply disappointed at the repeated satanic hindrances. He tells us
that he could no longer bear it (3:1 & 5), so he took some action, but
most of all he kept on praying. Satan could keep him from journeying to
Thessalonica, but he could not keep him away from the Throne of Grace. And
he cannot stop us either. Sometimes we may feel quite dead about a matter,
with no feelings of optimism, being like the psalmist who had to confess
that his soul was cast down and disquieted within him, but that is the very
time to pray. I have found it so, and seen gracious answers to prayers which
I would hardly dare to claim as prayers of faith. The psalmist clearly realised
that before he could talk to God he must speak quite firmly to himself, insisting
that his feelings had nothing to do with sheer faith and that the time for
praising would come if he hoped in his God (Psalm 42:5, 11 & 43:5).
"Pray without ceasing" Paul urged these Thessalonian friends (5:17), not
meaning that we should do nothing else -- far from it -- but that we should
never give up. In that realm we can be unstoppable.
2. He could not stop spiritual growth
This is a heartening epistle. Many of Paul's letters had to do with urging
the saints to change their ways, but in this case he simply pressed them
to keep going on, using the phrase, "more and more". Clearly they were growing
spiritually all the time. With regard to pleasing God he told them to proceed
"just as you are doing" (4:1). When it comes to love of the brethren he says:
"Indeed you do, but do so more and more" (4:10) and later he writes: "Encourage
and build one another up, just as in fact you are doing" (5:11). Satan could
stop Paul from visiting them, but he could not stop their spiritual growth.
i. A substitute
They were growing spiritually in spite of the fact that they did not
have the rich ministry they wished for. Paul perhaps may be forgiven if
he imagined that their growth depended on his teaching of them, but he was
spiritual enough to recognise that this was not so. 2 Thessalonians opens
with the words: "We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, because
your faith is growing abundantly and your love increasing", though he himself
had not been there to instruct them. They grew, although they only had a
substitute, the "long-stop" Timothy, to preach to them. One can imagine one
saint asking another if Paul was going to preach, and getting the answer:
"Oh no! Unfortunately it is only Timothy again!"
Well, praise God, Satan evidently could not stop Timothy from going,
and in any case he could not stop the saints from growing spiritually, even
if their favourite preacher was not there. He was powerless to hinder their
growth in Christ provided that they fed on the Word. If we cease to grow spiritually,
we must not blame others; and we cannot attribute our failure alone to Satan,
for in this matter he can only operate if he finds some basis in us on which
to work. Growth is not automatic. Paul evidently had some concern about them,
and that is why he sent Timothy (3:5). Happily Timothy brought back a good
report which quieted all the apostle's fears. Their faith and love were strong
and always growing. In that matter they were unstoppable.
ii. Internal problems
Of course they had their problems. Every church has them. And Satan does
his utmost to stress and exaggerate them. Healing -- or the lack of it --
brings problems. To their perplexity and sorrow some of their number had
failed to experience healing from their sickness and had died -- perhaps it
might have seemed prematurely (4:13). Witnessing, a matter of prime importance,
can bring its problems. The apostle had to curb excessive and exaggerated
behaviour by reminding them of his instructions "to aspire to live quietly,
to mind your own business and to work with your hands" (4:11). Idle prophetic
word may bring [26/27] problems. They were in danger
of being shaken in mind and excited by ideas and plausible teaching not authorised
by Scriptural apostolic truth (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). Happily Satan's attempts
to weaken and divide them by means of these problems failed; faith and love
triumphed and enabled them to make progress together in the will of God.
iii. External pressures
Satan is the god of this world. He is the fierce antagonist of Christ
and His Church. The Lord Jesus foresaw and warned of this, and from the first
the Thessalonians found that they were involved in the bitter conflict which
comes to those who receive and obey the gospel (2:14-15). Yet they grew
It is surely a fact that of all the seven churches to which Paul wrote,
the Thessalonians are singled out by him as being victims of aggressive satanic
attacks. Both of their two Letters stress this element of wicked persecution.
It is most significant that, at the same time, this is the church most commended
for its steadfastness and growth. Paul boasted of them to other churches
(2 Thessalonians 1:4). In some strange way, Satan not only could not hinder
their growth but rather contributed to it. It seems like a New Testament
parallel to the Old Testament record of Israel in Egypt: "The more they were
oppressed, the more they multiplied" (Exodus 1:12).
In his closing words of the First Letter, Paul urged the saints in Thessalonica
always to rejoice and to give thanks in everything (5:16 & 18). We notice
that he wrote "in everything" and not "for everything." He
lived up to his own teaching. In one brief sentence he voiced his personal
disappointment at being stopped by Satan, but again and again he kept on expressing
his delight in their turning Satan's trials into faith's triumphs. His own
spirit was quickened. "We live, if you stand fast in the Lord" he affirmed.
"How can we thank God enough ...?" (3:8-9).
3. He could not stop the written Word
We have surprisingly little of the spoken messages which Paul delivered
but we have a very rich collection of what he wrote. No doubt at that time
it may have seemed to him a matter of great importance that he should journey
to Thessalonica. In the outcome, however it was infinitely more important
that he should write these two Epistles to them. It is not difficult for
us to perceive that behind the activities of the hinderer we have the master-stroke
of our God.
Perhaps the Thessalonians felt that it was a pity that they should be
deprived of Paul's presence and have to be content to have only a Letter!
But what a Letter! It has travelled all over the world. It has endured through
all the centuries. It has been translated into hundreds and hundreds of languages.
God just laughed in derision at Satan's futile hindrance of His apostle,
and made it the occasion of a vital communication to His whole Church about
His Day of glory. These are Letters which we should read more often than
I think I know what Paul would have preached if he had been permitted
to journey to Thessalonica. I can imagine him with glowing face and ringing
tones, talking to them like this: Brothers, we not only believe that Jesus
died and rose again, but also that He will come out to meet us on the great
Day of full salvation. "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with
a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God.
The dead in Christ shall rise first; then we that are alive, that are left,
shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord
in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord ..." (4:14-18).
If I had been one of that congregation, my tears of joy would have mingled
with many others and nothing could have prevented me from ejaculating "Praise
the Lord!" But I was not there. And nor was the apostle Paul. It did not
happen like that. God provided something much better. He gave them and us
His written Word. They had no recording booth or shorthand reporter at Thessalonica
so, instead of a message of hope to a limited circle, the Lord inspired His
servant to write it all down in a Letter. Thank God, then, that Satan prevented
Paul from going to Thessalonica if as a result he had to sit down and write
those thrilling words. "So comfort one another with these words" he wrote.
No doubt they did, [27/28] reading them over and over
again. Through long and lonely years I too have been greatly comforted by
the same words, and so have multitudes of others. The sermon that Paul did
not himself preach has become the theme of countless other sermons. In various
lands and on numerous occasions I have read them at a graveside. And the message
is as true -- and as needed -- as ever it was.
Satan stopped Paul from going to Thessalonica, but he could not stop
him from conveying God's Word to the world, and indeed it may have been
the very hindrance which encouraged Paul to write it. The Lord Jesus is
coming again. The New Testament is full of that message. This passage, however,
has its own special emphases, firstly that if we die before that Day we will
not miss any of its glory, in fact we will have a split-second priority before
those who still live. Secondly there is the stress on the comforting truth
that when it happens, we will once again be all together, never again to
taste the pain of separation. Here, then, is comfort for the bereaved and
inspiration for us all, coming in this way because Satan hindered Paul.
4. He cannot stop the Rapture
Like Paul, we all have private experiences of hindrance and even frustration.
In our limited understanding death itself may seem to spoil our plans and
expectations. Men say that the one great certainty of life is the grim fact
that it must end. But they are wrong. We have eternal life, and one day death
is going to be swallowed up by life, for God in Christ has made us for this
very purpose. For us there is only one certainty and that is that our Lord
will come down from heaven to meet us as we are caught up to Him. Satan
could stop Paul, and sometimes he may stop us but, when God's moment comes
he will not be able to stop Christ from fulfiling His promise, "I will come
again and receive you unto myself". He is not only Christ the Invincible
but also Christ the Inevitable.
You will notice that I said, "When God's moment comes". Alec Motyer
, in his commentary on Philippians, writes: "Paul offers no dates for
the return of Christ. It is an imminent possibility for which the Christian
must be in constant readiness and it is capable of tarrying for a thousand
years. But nothing can stop it happening at the moment which God the Father
has fore-ordained for it. The Day of Jesus Christ is fixed in the Father's
diary." What is more, it is fixed not only as to the Day but as to the very
hour. The Lord Jesus said that no-one knows the day or the hour of His coming
When I was young and brash, in our missionary zeal we used to talk about
hastening the coming of the Lord. I now realise that we cannot do that. But
no-one -- not even Satan -- can delay that glorious moment. He could stop
Paul then, but he will not be able to hinder him or any of the rest of us
when the trumpet sounds. Christ will come down and we will go up, and there
will be nothing between. It seems that the Devil will be warned of that,
for we are told that at a point he will be filled with fury "because he knows
that his time is short" (Revelation 12:12). Later in the book of the Revelation
we are told of the next-to-last trumpet which will herald the seventh and
final one and that it had been kept "for this very hour and day and month
and year" (9:15). God is always precisely on time and nothing can stop Him.
Paul wrote to the Philippians in sad condemnation of some who show their
enmity to the cross of Christ by persistently focusing on earthly things.
In contrast to such people, he reminded us that our true home is in heaven
and that we show our love of the cross and of Him who died there to be our
Saviour by looking eagerly for His Return. When He comes to meet us on the
resurrection morning, both receiving us to Himself and transforming us from
our lowly condition into those who have bodies "like unto his glorious body"
(Philippians 3:21), we will enjoy a rapturous Homecoming.
Nothing will be able to stop or even delay that glorious event. The apostle
underlines this fact by stating that it will be brought about by the power
which enables God to subdue all things to Himself. For Him there is no problem
about bringing it to pass; it is simply a matter of choosing the right moment.
When He decides (or indeed, has already decided) that matter, then nothing,
and no-one, will be able to prevent it happening. [28/29]
This may be a good way to conclude the present article. We began by noting
how Satan was able to hinder Paul, but now we end with the reminder that
nothing can hinder Paul's Saviour. It is an interesting fact that every chapter
of this First Epistle to the Thessalonians points directly to the great subject
of the Second Coming of Christ. The Letter closes with a prayerful wish that
we may be wholly sanctified in spirit, soul and body, in order that we may
be blameless at that Coming. The final statement is expressed in the enheartening
words: "Faithful is he who calls you, who will also do it" (5:24). In other
words, Our God its unstoppable!
BOOKS OF WISDOM
John H. Paterson
Get wisdom, get understanding ... Forsake her not, and she shall preserve
love her and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing... (
IT is one of the simple facts of life that human wisdom cannot lead a
person to God. It may point them in the right direction; it may lead them
to conclude that there is a God, but it cannot, by itself, bring them into
contact with Him. For some people, this is a tragedy they never resolve;
they spend their lives and their wisdom searching for God and end in despair
because, although they want to, they have still not found Him. For others
it becomes, perversely, a source of pride, for if they, with their fine minds,
have been unable to discover God, then that must prove that He does not
But to find God it is necessary both to start at the right point and
then to seek Him. And Paul tells us that this "right point" is the recognition
that there are two kinds of wisdom, and that it is quite possible to possess
one and not the other:
"Howbeit we speak wisdom among the perfect: yet a wisdom not of this
world, nor of the rulers of this world, which are coming to naught: but
we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that hath been hidden,
which God foreordained before the world, unto our glory: which none of the
rulers of this world knoweth ..." (1 Corinthians 2:6-8)
But this at once raises an important question: is all human thought then
vain? It must, surely, play some part in bringing us to perceive the true
wisdom of God. How, then, do these two kinds of wisdom relate to one another?
These are questions which, it seems to me, are dealt with in what are
generally known as the Books of Wisdom in the Old Testament. Whatever we
call them, we can recognise the character of these books -- Job, the Psalms,
Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. They are intended, I think,
to show us from both a positive and a negative standpoint where true wisdom
lies, and how it is acquired. Their effect is to divide humanity into two
categories -- the wise person and the fool. This division is, you may recollect,
most marked in Proverbs, where there are almost one hundred references to
fools, folly and the foolish. The fool is, for these writers, simply someone
who thinks himself wise but who does not, in reality, possess the key to
What does it mean to seek or get wisdom, as these Scriptures urge us
to do? It seems that two things are involved. They are to develop: (1)
[29/30] the ability to identify the wisdom of God when we
meet it in the circumstances of our lives. To learn, then, to discern the
hand of God in external conditions is "wise; (2) the ability to adapt
to the wisdom of God, by responding rightly to God's actions. The wise
man is recognised by his attitude of heart, or his response, when and where
God touches him personally.
It is these reactions to what we might call internal and external circumstances
that represent the true wisdom. And it is the struggle -- the learning process
-- to achieve right reactions which occupies the writers of the books we
know as the Wisdom Books.
They are, of course, diverse in character, but I think that it is possible
to trace through all five of them this common theme. It might be easier to
do so if their order in the Bible was slightly different, for they seem to
me to be a graded series of approaches to the problem of the two wisdoms.
If, just for now, you will allow me to tamper a little with their order,
I will try to show you what I mean.
AT one end of the scale comes the Book of Ecclesiastes, or the Preacher.
No one can read this book, especially in a modern paraphrase, without being
impressed by the worldly-wise cynicism of the writer. It all sounds completely,
wearily up-to-date! And what it amounts to is that, viewing things as they
are in the world, there is no sense in them. In other words, a "wise" person,
in any human meaning of the word, would never have created a world like ours;
nor would he allow it to run in such a contradictory fashion. Good intentions
and good actions are frustrated, evil flourishes. One cannot even account
for -- explain the why's and wherefore's of -- the natural world, let alone
the world of man: rivers run into the sea and the hydrological cycle goes
on turning century after century without any apparent progress or change
(1:7). What good is it?
Viewing the world armed with the best of its wisdom, the Preacher can
only reiterate that it arouses nothing but "vanity and vexation of spirit"
(10 references). It doesn't make sense and the more you think about it the
less sense it makes: "I applied my heart to know wisdom ... I perceived that
this also was vexation of spirit" (1:17) -- or "a striving after wind" as
the Revised Version puts it. The word translated "vexation" has its apparent
origin in a root that describes hunger and greed: this search for wisdom is
an unsatisfied hunger in the human mind. If you have made your best efforts
to understand the world as you see it and have failed, you are left hungry.
The reaction of the Preacher comes in the twelfth chapter. His advice
to anyone wrestling with the problem of why the world does not work wisely
is -- to forget it! We should turn away, he says, from vain efforts to make
sense of nature and events, and turn to their creator. Furthermore, we should
do that early, in the days of our youth, so that we waste as little of our
lives as may be in what is, for human wisdom, an impossible task. What eventually
counts as true wisdom is (12:13) to "fear God, and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole duty of man."
SO far, these scriptural thoughts on wisdom have been overwhelmingly
negative. When we turn to Job, negative ideas still predominate; that is,
most of the book is still about what wisdom is not. But we have moved
on appreciably from Ecclesiastes. In Job, we have a man who recognises the
existence of another and higher wisdom, but who is hard put to it to find
There are two excellent reasons why this key eluded Job. One is that
he was being assailed for much of the time by his friends' cliche-ridden
"explanations" of what had happened to him in that incredible run of misfortunes
which had overtaken him. I have already suggested that one of the spiritual
skills that the man or woman of God must learn in seeking wisdom is the ability
to interpret circumstances, and to discern the hand of God in them.
Not the least of Job's troubles was the fact that he had several friends
who believed precisely that they had that kind of wisdom: that they understood
the mind of God! So out came their explanations. A few examples will suffice.
In Job 4:7-8, Eliphaz argued that nobody ever heard of [30/31]
innocent people suffering, so that if we suffer it is because
we deserve to do so. In Job 8:4-6 Bildad argued that Job's disasters could
be mitigated if only he would pray, so he had obviously failed in this respect.
And in Job 11:1-7, Zophar came straight out and accused Job of self-righteousness.
And so on!
Now it seems clear, as we read the book, that Job could not have known
the right explanation, but his great virtue and strength was that he certainly
knew nonsense when he heard it! Groping as he was for understanding among
unprecedented calamities, he at least knew that none of his friends had the
right answer, and he repudiated all their arguments. In this sense, his
achievement was negative, but it was a wonderful achievement for all that!
He must have been sorely tempted to grasp at any one of the facile, if wounding,
explanations offered by his friends, but he did not do so: "In all this
Job sinned not, nor charged God with foolishness" (Job 1:22). To be able
to identify the false even when you do not know the true is a very great
step forward. To be able to say, "God is not like that" is part of the way
of finding out what He is like.
I said that there were two reasons why Job could not find the key to
heavenly wisdom -- and why, in a very real sense, he never did find it,
for the book ends with his abruptly halting his search when confronted by
God Himself. The first was the tangle of false reasoning which his friends
wove around him. The second was, of course, that Job did not know what was
going on, all this time, in heaven!
The late Dr Francis Schaeffer was fond of using an illustration
which, although drawn from a rather curious source, may be helpful to us
in trying to picture Job's situation. He used to point out that in the old,
classical Chinese theatre there were two stages, one above the other. The
lower one represented earth, and the upper one heaven, or the abode of the
gods. Actors on the lower stage could not see what was going on above them.
All they could go by was an occasional noise from above -- and the reaction
of the audience who could, of course, see both stages from where they sat.
Now where Job is concerned, we form a privileged audience. We know from
the book exactly what was going on above and below. But Job and his friends
did not. What they were trying to do was to guess from the evidence in Job's
life what was happening on that upper stage. As it happens, all the guesses
made by Job's friends were rather simplistic; they were based on a simple
idea of cause and effect. But Job rejected that idea. He had no knowledge
of the real explanation, but still he argued for some higher, hidden wisdom.
External things do not carry their explanation in themselves. Bravo Job!
SO how is this higher, hidden wisdom to be found? In the Book of Proverbs
we can, so to speak, watch the search for it in progress. The writer is quite
clear that such a search is necessary; that it will not, in effect, simply
drop into our laps. Here we find the wise man seeking, and the fool resting
on his laurels -- on the fund of earthly wisdom which he has built up. Keeping
in mind the nature of the true wisdom, the wise man puts himself in the
way of acquiring it; he is careful about his actions; careful about his
priorities, careful, too, not to accept the obvious, or the flashy, or the
The fool is just the opposite; he is drawn to whatever increases his
wealth, his pleasure, or his comfortable ease. He takes risks -- borrowing,
gambling, drinking -- whereas the wise man keeps tight hold on himself and
his belongings, all the time seeking wise use of them. And the writer's
message to his son is to be wise, to avoid the path of the fool.
It is interesting to pause here and notice that these admonitions had
a very real relevance in their day. If, as Proverbs 1:1 asserts, these are
the words of Solomon, then his son, Rehoboam, received them, and promptly
made the wrong choice. When he came to the throne, he was presented
immediately with two wisdoms (1 Kings 12:1-16): that of Solomon, as represented
by his old counselors, and that of the young men who were Rehoboam's own contemporaries.
And he chase the wrong wisdom, and lost ten-twelfths of his kingdom!
So here again we have made some progress in the Books of Wisdom. We now
know that there are different kinds of wisdom, and that only one of these
developed from a knowledge of God and His ways. What next?
WHEN we turn to the Psalms, we find the true wisdom really shining through
-- patchily, perhaps, as the life of the psalmist was patchy, but everywhere
apparent. There are many times when David himself seems baffled, as Job was,
but there are many references, too, that show him emerging from bewilderment
into a remarkable perception of the wisdom of God.
There are 150 psalms, and only space here for one or two comments on
the growth in wisdom and understanding revealed by the book. But notice
firstly, if you will, how the psalmist begins to perceive an integration
between man, nature and history. For the Preacher and Job, these three
usually contradicted each other, whereas for David they confirmed one another:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament showeth his handywork.
Day unto day uttereth speech,
and night unto night showeth knowledge ...
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
(Psalm 19:1, 2, 7)
The psalmist has learned to detect the hand of God, and the voice of
God, among all the conflicting sights and sounds of His world (and David
had had plenty of conflict in his own experience): to discern the reality
behind the appearance.
Notice, secondly, the psalmist's realisation of how the wisdom of God
works itself out in the individual. Whereas the leading character in Proverbs,
as we have seen, is the fool, the recurrent note struck in the Psalms is,
"Blessed is the man ..." That is, as it happens, the phrase with which the
book opens. David has come to understand, in the wisdom of Lord, where blessing
lies -- in what conduct, and in what attitude to God.
He makes it all sound simple, but it isn't! For this "hidden" wisdom,
as Paul called it in 1 Corinthians, is hidden largely because it is an upside-down
wisdom. It is the reverse of our everyday wisdom or, to quote Paul directly:
"For behold your calling, brethren, how that not many wise after the
flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God chose the foolish
things of the world, that he might put to shame them that are wise ..."
(1 Corinthians 1:26-7)
It involves looking at strength and saying, "No, that is really weakness",
or at weakness and saying, "No, in God's hands that is strength." It is,
in fact, a rather advanced lesson in God's school. But it was one in which
David had already graduated! He had taken the practical examination when he
fought and killed Goliath, and here in the Psalms is his written testimony
to what he had learned:
He poureth contempt upon princes,
And causeth them to wander in the waste, where there is no way.
Yet setteth he the needy on high from affliction
And maketh him families like a flock ...
Whoso is wise shall give heed to these things.
The Song of Solomon
SO the wisdom of the wise increases as they come to understand the ways
of God. They learn what a growth in that wisdom demands of them; they know
the blessing of the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who
meditates in it day and night (Psalm 1:2). But now we come to the Song of
Solomon, and whatever are we to say about that? Should it be in our Bible
at all and, if so, what does it contribute to the whole?
These are not easy questions to answer! My own comment is, in any case,
not so much an answer as a suggestion as to how we may link this book with
the other four. [32/33]
What the Song seems to me to tell us is just this: that a heart which
has learned to discern God's wisdom in unlikely circumstances, and to adapt
to His ways, can be brought into a very close relationship with Himself.
The psalmist spoke of loving God and loving His law (cf. 119:97, 113, 163),
but this is a long step further on. It is a relationship so close, and based
on so perfect an understanding of God's ways, that only this kind of poetry
and image can fully represent it.
This, in short, is the result of an ever-increasing knowledge of God.
And it is this, surely, in prospect that makes the long and often difficult
pursuit of true wisdom worthwhile. It is this, ultimately, that drives us
to persevere in our quest.
He brought me to the banqueting house,
And his banner over me was love.
A GOOD CONSCIENCE
HOW could God condemn the heathen nations for their iniquity when He
had not given them His laws and His ordinances? Because He had given them,
as He has given to all men, a conscience. The prophet Amos condemned Edom
and Moab because he assumed that they had a conscience which forbade their
actions and his assumption was correct. There is no-one without a personal
responsibility, for the work of the law is written in their hearts, their
conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts, one with another,
are accusing or else excusing them (Romans 2:15).
A HARDENED CONSCIENCE
Conscience is a man's hallmark which separates him from the animals.
However if he ignores it, its voice will grow increasingly weak. If he rejects
it and insists on doing what it forbids, its voice will be reduced to a
whisper and perhaps to complete silence. The result of a hardened heart
is a silent conscience. When that point is reached, a man can only be rescued
by devastating blows. These may well be God's final efforts to get a person
to acknowledge that what his conscience has been telling or used to tell
him was correct.
A MISINFORMED CONSCIENCE
Even as he persecuted the Church, Saul of Tarsus felt that he had a good
conscience (Acts 23:1). According to the righteousness of the law he felt
blameless; nothing pricked his conscience. But conscience is a part of fallen
man and cannot be trusted. A religious man, like Saul, can develop into a
self-righteous being who suffers from a misinformed conscience. Later Paul
understood that his conscience could not justify him before God (1 Corinthians
4:4). In other words, conscience is not necessarily good in the case of
one who is self-righteous.
AN AWAKENED CONSCIENCE
When the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of Truth, glorifies Jesus to someone
and by doing so exposes his sin, then his conscience becomes troubled. It
is as though he were surrounded by accusing eyes which had been watching
him all through his days, noting all his misdeeds. In this way the pangs of
conscience can become quite unendurable.
On the Day of Pentecost, three thousand people experienced this, being
pricked in their hearts as though a sword had pierced them. They cried out,
asking what they should do, for they were at their wits' end, feeling as
though the pit were opening under them. They saw no way of escape, no hiding
place, as they knew themselves condemned in the sight of a holy God.
The awakened conscience experiences the vileness of sin and has nothing
to say in its defence. Thoughts may excuse, but more often they accuse, and
even the excuses break down. At Pentecost Peter was able to point the enquirers
to the saving power of Jesus Christ and so they passed from the outer court
of judgment and perdition to the heavenly feast of salvation. Blessed is
everyone who has experienced something of this and has learned truly to fear
God. Such a one will never regard redemption as something to be taken for
granted, but will know it to be the most wonderful miracle of grace.
A CLEANSED CONSCIENCE
The awakened conscience presents its indispensable demands which must
be met if its owner is to find rest and be satisfied. The demand is that
sin must be atoned for so completely that the Judge will not bring it into
remembrance when the person is called to account before Him. Unless this
is the case, the awakened conscience will never find peace. He cannot atone
for his own sin and pay this debt. He can indeed and ought to make good whatever
harm has come to others through him, but this will not be sufficient to
take away his guilt in the matter. If the sinner tries to satisfy his conscience
with one kind of sacrifice or another, he will only experience with increasing
despair the realisation that this is impossible. Such actions would only
be dead works which can never bring rest to his conscience.
The conscience requires that God be satisfied, otherwise it cannot itself
find satisfaction. If God can no longer point to the sin, then, and only
then, can the conscience find rest. Is this at all possible? Can God, who
is righteous and holy, deliberately not bring to mind a person's sins? Can
sin really be taken away so that it disappears and ceases to be, passing like
the early morning mist before the radiant sun?
Yes, indeed. That which seemed impossible to the awakened conscience,
has now been accomplished by Jesus Christ when He gave Himself as a sacrifice
for the sin of the world. By this one sacrifice of the cross, sin has been
taken away once for all and the sinner can have a cleansed conscience as
he becomes a true believer. By the cross and resurrection, the sinner is brought
to perfection, that is, to a condition where he does not have to do anything
at all to atone for his sin, because the work of atonement is completely
accomplished. This, and this alone, brings rest and joy to a troubled conscience.
By it he is deeply humbled, but at the same time deeply reassured. For him
there can be no self-satisfaction and no self-righteousness, and therefore
no self-glory. Gratitude fills his heart. The word "grace" becomes full of
A TENDER CONSCIENCE
When a conscience has thus been cleansed and liberated, an entirely new
situation has arisen. However this does not mean that the transition from
darkness to light and from death to life has left the believer without problems
of conscience. The cleansed conscience is even more tender and ready to tremble
before the holy God. Self-confidence is no indication of spiritual life
but rather the contrary. The Scriptures and experience do not so much testify
to the certainty of salvation as to the assurance of salvation, which is
something quite different. Self-confidence would mean self-certainty. It
is faith that brings assurance.
Faith, however, is still fighting and still developing, so the assurance
of salvation may undergo many different phases. No awakened soul who knows
a little of its own weakness and God's perfection will escape without strong
attacks on its faith. The accuser of the brethren is not idle; he will not
passively watch a believer grow in the knowledge of God's ways and thoughts.
Professor Karl Heim speaks of a barrage which our great adversary
puts down all the way, and right to the very gates of heaven. No-one can
come through this by his own power, and no-one can reduce it. This barrage
consists of all the sin which lies behind us, but which now the Devil calls
back to mind with a flood of strong accusations, reproaches and condemning
voices. He can spread out all our past, showing it like a video. Even what
we have long ago forgotten and what we are ashamed of is brought to our remembrance.
We blush at the sights which are depicted in our minds in great detail. Then
he [34/35] reminds us that one day we must give some
account of our past, and he seeks with all his devilish cunning to drive
us to despair. Who then can help us? How shall we get through this terrible
and fatal barrage?
Thank God that when our big words and professions fall to the ground,
there remains, by grace, the assurance of salvation. The barrage of accusations
avails nothing against our Lord and Saviour. He walks upright through it
all. And it is He who is the Lord our Righteousness, so that, together with
Him, we may walk upright through it all, even though our souls tremble at
the noise of the enemy's artillery.
An attitude of cocksureness and "no problem" is not a characteristic
of the cleansed and liberated conscience. It is perhaps salutary that our
consciences should always be tender. But they must never succumb to Satan's
accusations, but rather continue in a spirit of trembling gratitude marvelling
at God's incomprehensible mercy and rejoicing with the boldness of faith
which knows that we will survive the judgment, because we rest our whole
life and future in time and in eternity, on the solid rock of Christ our
PAUL'S LETTERS TO SEVEN CHURCHES
2. CORINTH Lordship
THE second church which received letters from Paul is Corinth, and for
these I suggest that lordship is the underlying theme. Probably it would
be better to cover what I have to say if I used the title "Authority". It
is a reasonable diagnosis of the church's conditions to say that this was
the feature which was so sorely lacking in their church. I have preferred,
however, to choose the title "lordship" because the real point at issue was
the absolute rule of The Lord Jesus Christ. We note the constant use of this
complete title: it appears six times in the introduction and fourteen times
in the whole First Epistle.
It may well be judged impossible to express the theme of these two Letters
in one word. The First is so varied in its subject matter and the Second
so dissimilar in form, though written fairly soon after it, that I hesitate
to put forward my idea of one Covering thought in the mind of the writer.
But here it is and I will do my best to substantiate the idea with some comments.
In almost all of Paul's Letters to churches there was a single heresy
or exaggeration to be rebutted. But what shall we say with regard to the
Christians of Corinth? So many things were apparently wrong with them. The
First Letter deals with a variety of topics. A few of them are so controversial
that at times I have been tempted to wish that this letter might have remained
among those others which divine sovereignty did not preserve. It has throughout
the years provided God's people with fuel for many a heated controversy.
Nevertheless, this is one of those inspired Scriptures which God has provided
for His Church, and it must be received as such -- God-breathed and profitable.
Indeed we must be very thankful for it. It gives us the only apostolic confirmation
in the epistles concerning the Lord's Table (Chapter 11). In it we have the
exquisite chapter on love (Chapter 13) and the sublime exposition on the
resurrection (Chapter 15). It is therefore a valuable part of the New Testament.
I never cease to marvel that God should have chosen to entrust the lofty
spiritual truths contained in those two chapters to such
[35/36] a muddled and faulty church. His ways are indeed past finding
The Second Letter is quite different and has much comfort and inspiration
for us. Running right through it, however, as the commentators point out,
there are evidences of fierce and bitter criticisms of Paul and his authority.
These had to be rebutted, not simply for his personal vindication, but because
a great deal of authoritative apostolic teaching had been committed to this
one man (10:8 & 13:10). In the First Letter, then, divine authority had
to be invoked over a disorderly church and in the Second that same authority
had to be argued about and insisted upon by the Lord's chosen apostle. In
both cases it was the lordship of Christ which was at issue.
Did not the Corinthians call Jesus Lord? Presumably they did, for the
apostle frequently addresses the recipients of the letters as true Christians.
Yet in his First Letter he has to charge them with some shocking faults,
disclosing that they were contentious, conceited and at times shameful in
their conduct. Any reader of this Letter gets the impression of confusion
and disorder. We are given no details of their church structure; there is
no mention of eldership or of deacons and perhaps we may be excused if we
apply to them the inspired verdict on Israel during the long period of the
judges: "In those days, there was no king in Israel; every man did that which
was right in this own eyes" (Judges 17:6 & 21:25). The poor Israelites
had no king; the pathetic Corinthians had God's King, but there is little
evidence of His rule. In their case the title "Lord Jesus Christ" was rather
an empty one. Hence the confusion.
Their heavenly Lord had provided them with spiritual authority in the
person of the apostle Paul who had been a father to them (1 Cor. 4:15) but
now his leadership was questioned and disputed (9:3). This fact is made clearer
in the Second Epistle where all are agreed that there is clear evidence of
his denigrators who charged the apostle with being unreliable (2 Cor. 1:17),
crazy (5:13), contemptibly mean (10:10), foolish (11:16) and much more. Perhaps
they respected other self-appointed leaders but they seemed to have little
respect for Christ's appointed and authorized apostle.
They had lost sight of their Lord. As Isaiah demonstrates, when a man
really sees the Lord, "high and lifted up", the spontaneous effect is that
he himself is brought into lowly humility. This is something which we all
need to learn. The messages to the Corinthians were sandwiched in between
another quotation from Scripture, "He that boasts, let him boast in the Lord"
(Jeremiah 9:24). This is found in 1 Cor. 1:31 and 2 Cor. 10:17. In a sense
it is the last word -- we are nothing and Christ is everything. It is in
this connection that Paul reminds us how our wise God has fully provided for
us in giving us the Lord Jesus to be our righteousness, our sanctification
and our redemption. Perhaps we cannot do better than consider these two letters
under those three headings:
LORDSHIP AND RIGHTEOUSNESS
For Christians the Lordship of Christ is universal: "Their Lord and ours"
(1:2). Unless I am mistaken this is the only letter of Paul's which is directed
to all believers everywhere, though there is some question about the inscription
on the Epistle to the Ephesians. Here and elsewhere (4:17 & 7:17) the
apostle insists that what he has to say to the Corinthians applies equally
to all the churches. It is important to note that he cannot accept that those
who enjoy the knowledge of Christ as Saviour should not also acknowledge
Him as Lord. The Corinthians were in Christ Jesus and designated saints because
they shad called on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Salvation from sin
is entirely a matter of God's free grace, but that does not exclude submission
to the absolute Lordship of our risen Saviour.
In the Second Epistle Paul makes the matter of the association of his
gospel with the Lordship of Christ even clearer when he insists that "What
we preach is ... Christ Jesus as Lord" (4:5) It is true that he majored on
the cross, for he originally began his ministry in Corinth with the determination
to concentrate on Christ and Him crucified, but in that connection he disclosed
that the One who had been hanged on a cross was "the Lord of glory" (1 Cor.
When we become Christians we do not make Jesus Lord, but we accept His
Lordship for our own dives. When Peter took his message to the first Gentile
church and brought them into justification by faith he opened his gospel
talk with [36/37] the categorical statement: "He is
Lord of all" (Acts 10:36). It often appears as a parenthesis, but it is much
more than that. Peter himself had just emerged from a traumatic experience
of yielding to that Lordship on the housetop at Joppa. In the power of the
Spirit he pressed home the gospel message, with the happy result that all
his hearers received the gospel of Christ's sovereignty, were justified before
God and entered into the promised peace. They were sealed with the Holy Spirit
No doubt the Corinthians began in the same way, though not necessarily
in household groups but more probably one by one as they listened to Paul's
preaching. Did they also speak with tongues? I myself think that is very
unlikely, but nothing is recorded so it seemingly does not matter. What they
certainly did was to extol God and rejoice that Jesus is Lord, just as the
group at Caesarea had done. But that peace did not continue, at least not
in their corporate experience. The church to which Paul wrote knew little
of heavenly peace in their life together. It was as if other lords now held
Because of this, Paul found it necessary to issue rebukes, corrections
and advice, but his basic concern was to bring them back to their complete
submission to Christ's Lordship. He wrote, "No-one can say that Jesus is
Lord, but in the Holy Spirit" (12:3). This is not an easy verse to explain.
It may refer to some ecstatic utterances among them, but surely the clear
implication for us is that whenever the Holy Spirit is in command, the governing
principle is the Lordship of Christ.
It was on the basis of this Lordship that the church in Corinth had been
founded. At the beginning, although Paul met with some success, notably in
the conversion of the ruler of the synagogue, he fell a victim to discouragement.
In the wakeful hours of the night, when things always appear to us at their
worst, the Lord spoke words of great significance to him. "Keep on speaking",
He said to His downcast servant, "for I have many people in this city" (Acts
18:10). Even in that evil city, Jesus was still Lord and intended to call
men effectively to Himself. He knew where they were and He knew how to claim
them as His own, even though they were such unlikely folk whom only divine
grace could transform (6:11).
During the following eighteen months God fulfilled His promise and called
out sinners to become saints. It is true that they were those who "called
upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ", but the initiative was really with
Him. He called them into His fellowship (1:9); He called them to be instruments
of His gracious wisdom (1:26); He called them to peace and He called them
in their domestic circumstances, in their religious circumstances, and in
their daily avocations. He called them because He had bought them with a
price. Their business was to stay in those circumstances but with the new
element of being governed by keeping close to God (7:15-24).
The three circumstances, domestic, spiritual and occupational, cover
the diverse areas of disorder in their church. It seems that at Corinth
things had got out of hand -- out of the Lord's hand. The inclusive remedy
for their many problems would come by a new realisation of the significance
of being called to submit to Christ as sovereign Lord. The apostle urged
them to recollect what they had been before they were called to enjoy Christ's
Lordship (1:26). In those first days their only boast was in the Lord. These
two Letters are devoted to the task of getting them back on to that ground
and urging them to stay there.
LORDSHIP AND SANCTIFICATION
The proposition that the Holy Spirit's main work with us is to enforce
the Lordship of Jesus Christ is confirmed in Paul's Second Epistle with
-- stress on the spiritual transformation of believers. He is showing us
that God has given Christ to us in terms of sanctification. There are two
aspects of His sanctifying work:
1. Personal Fulfilment
"Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Cor. 3:17). This
is sometimes misunderstood and quoted to justify all sorts of exaggerations
and excesses. We should ask, Freedom for what? If we do, the context will
soon explain to us that this means freedom for the believer to be steadily
transformed into the image of Christ. I hope to develope this more in the
next article on "Galatians". They had been called to the task of "perfecting
holiness out of reverence for God" (7:1), and the Spirit had been
[37/38] given them for this very purpose. He Himself exercises
Lordship as He transfers believers into likeness to Jesus day by day --
from glory to glory (3:18). The important condition for this is that we
keep our gaze on the eternal verities, namely the Lord Jesus and our destiny
of likeness to Him (4:18). The Corinthians had begun, as we all do, with
an unveiling to their hearts of the glory of God as it is seen in the divine
Man -- "the face of Jesus Christ" (4:6). They had therefore embarked on
a journey to the eternal realm where Christ is, and always will be, the Lord
of all. They were marked out for glory.
This is called "an eternal weight of glory" and so described in the context
of afflictions. These are often heavy at the time but are said to be light
and ephemeral in comparison with the endless bliss of eternity. I suggest
that it is not the afflictions but our reactions to the Lord as we endure
them, which have the sanctifying effect. We are not able to add to our spiritual
stature, and we are not asked to do so, but we will certainly grow as we
practise glad submission to the Lord.
Day by day, and sometimes in special crises, we find that the objective
vision becomes a subjective experience. Paul himself gives us a most helpful
illustration of this in 12:1-10. He begins by telling how he had a surpassing
vision of glory. No details are permitted, but if we seek a parallel in the
Old Testament, we find that to Isaiah this meant seeing the Lord on His
throne, "high and lifted up" (Isaiah 6:1), while to Ezekiel, visions of
God showed him the likeness of a sapphire throne and high above that throne
the appearance in glory of God's Man (Ezekiel 1:27). Was it something like
this? We do not know. Paul simply describes it as visions and revelations
of the Lord.
Resulting from this vision Paul suffered his fierce trial of "a thorn
in the flesh". He begged to be delivered from it. At the third time of asking
(a significant number!) he was informed that he must prove God's grace to
go on bearing it. He therefore stopped asking and accepted Christ's right
-- as Lord -- to allow this affliction to continue. I say "accepted", but
he did more than that: he positively gloried in this experience, for he found
it to be God's wonderful way of having the throne of heaven established as
the throne of Christ in his own life. He virtually invited any man to see
and hear the spiritual results of such an experience (Verse 6). Private dealings
with the Lord inevitably have obvious results to those who have eyes to
2. Gospel Testimony
Leaving aside for a moment the tremendous issues of the Lordship of Christ
in the Church's own destiny, we consider this matter of the Corinthians'
call to holiness in the context of gospel witness. There is something which
is called "the work of the Lord" and the Corinthians were urged to give themselves
unstintingly to this work, especially in the light of the coming resurrection
(1 Cor. 15:58). This partly explains why the apostle was deeply concerned
about their spiritual state. He does not question their possession of eternal
life. Was that not enough? Many Christians tend to judge that it is. We can
understand the concern of Paul the evangelist to carry the gospel to other
cities, but could he not happily leave Corinth to enjoy the fellowship with
Jesus Christ into which they had been called? Clearly he could not.
One of the reasons for the great trouble he was taking over them -- though
only one -- was attributable to his evangelistic zeal. He had been called
to preach the gospel as a priority (1:17); all that he did was for the sake
of the gospel, "... that I might by all means save some" (9:22). As an ambassador
for Christ, he knew himself to hold the sacred trust of pleading with men
to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20). But he knew that all Christians, including
the Corinthians, shared this responsibility.
Leaving aside, then, the tremendous issues of the Lordship of Christ
in the Church's own destiny, we consider what the apostle had to say to
the Corinthians in this matter of gospel witness. The testimony of Christ
does not consist in talk but in power (4:19). The spiritual life of the witnesses,
under the Lordship of Christ, is the only sure guarantee of the efficacy of
their message, so that all through the corrections and instructions of these
two documents, there runs the apostle's concern that by the grace of God
the kingdom of God should he witnessed to, not in words only but in the power
of holy living.
Trouble had arisen in Corinth when different groups tried to be superior
to others and distinctive [38/39] from them by using
the names of leaders as their justification for this: "Each of you says,
I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ" (l.12).
No doubt each section felt that it had good reason for its position. It might
be though that the only right party in the church was the one which claimed
to be "of Christ", but the general opinion has always been against this interpretation
and has often tended to consider them the worst of all. This, of course,
could be because they were wrongly using the name of Christ to establish
themselves as a distinct and separate section of the church, as over against
others. Christ can never be considered as one leader among others. He must
be Lord of all.
It is true that Paul opened his First Letter by thanking God that the
testimony of Christ was confirmed in them (l.6) but, as we read on, we may
be forgiven if we suggest that there was much about their procedure which
served rather as a contradiction of the testimony. This was serious. It made
the apostle extremely sad and forced him to confess: "Out of much affliction
and anguish of heart, I wrote unto you with many tears ..." (2 Cor. 2:4).
These contradictions hindered the gospel. They came from problems in their
domestic life, their working life and their assembly life, and in each connection
the issue not only concerned their own spiritual state, but also the gospel
testimony to others. If only they truly accepted the rule of Christ's Lordship
and led the lives assigned to them by the Lord (NIV), the wife or husband
might contribute to the salvation of their marriage partner, as well as to
the salvation of their children (7:14-17). Contrariwise, how could unbelievers
be won for Christ if brother went to law with brother in front of them, or
if Christians were known to be guilty of fraudulent behaviour? (6:6-8), or
how could outsiders be expected to fall on their faces in submission to the
Saviour when, entering a church meeting, they found people behaving in a
way which to them seemed crazy? (14:23-25). Big issues are involved in the
matter of all things being done decently and in order (14:40). Angels are
looking on. Outsiders need to he attracted to Christ and enter into saving
faith in Him. The testimony to the gospel is at stake.
I have deliberately avoided comments on the behavior of the Corinthians
in regard to Spiritual gifts. There is much literature about this already.
I content myself with the comment that "the same Spirit" who apportions the
various gifts (1 Cor. 12:11) is the One who is busily engaged in transforming
believers into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). He does not reckon to do
one without the other, so that all true ministry under His Lordship must
be accompanied by the spiritual growth of those involved -- both the servants
and the ones being Served.
LORDSHIP AND REDEMPTION
Probably the most serious contradiction to the testimony in the Corinthians
was the denial by some of the hope of resurrection, and implicitly the questioning
of Christ's Lordship in terms of future resurrection glory. He was "the Lord
of glory" before ever He was crucified, but that Lordship is, as it were,
enhanced by His resurrection, ascension and coming again.
Redemption is a big word and covers salvation from its inception. Since
however, the apostle has already stated that Christ is our righteousness
and our sanctification, the use of the word here must surely point on to the
final consummation on the Day of redemption of the purchased possession, the
Day graphically described in 1 Corinthians 15. It seems that some of the
Corinthians lost sight of eternal values altogether; they were questioning
and indeed denying all resurrection glories, and in this way impugning the
Lordship of Christ. The logical outcome of their position, as Paul pointed
out, was the pagan philosophy: "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die"
(15:32) which is a complete denial of Christ's eternal Lordship.
As a correction in this matter a great deal had to be said about the
future of Christ's reign, and as a climax to Paul's sublime argument concerning
the eternal nature of our redemption, we have the divine forecast of victory
when the last enemy will he destroyed. Even now we are given foretastes of
that triumph, "But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord
Jesus Christ" (v.57). I like the Living Bible's comment in this respect,
"Nothing you do for the Lord is ever wasted as it would be if there were
no resurrection". Shortsightedness about the future introduces slackness in
the present. [39/40]
The solemn side of this matter is referred to in both of the Letters.
"The Day will disclose it" (1 Cor. 3:13-15); "Then every man will receive
his commendation from God" (4:5); "so run that you may obtain (the prize)"
(9:24); "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" (2 Cor.
5:10). He will certainly be Lord then; He should therefore be Lord now.
People at times argue that there is redemption for our bodies even now.
The truth is, of course, that this final transformation as to our bodies
awaits the Day of our recognition as sons (Romans 8:23). The subsequent verses
explain that this full redemption is a future event for which we must patiently
wait. I believe, however, that the Corinthians were given a hint as to how
the Lordship of Christ can affect our physical condition now.
The words I refer to are found in 1 Corinthians 6:13: "The body is ...
for the Lord, and the Lord for the body". The specific statement refers
to moral behaviour; it is also in a context associated with matters of food;
but it seems to me that it enshrines truth concerning all our bodily functions.
To a Christian, the body is for the Lord; it is a shrine where He is adored
and obeyed so that everything may be for His glory (6:19-20). On that condition,
the Scripture assures us, the Lord will be "for the body". It suggests that
if our bodies are devoted to His service, the Lord will be responsible for
their physical state.
Every preacher must be a demonstration of his messages, and certainly
Paul was that in this respect. He could claim that he placed his body as
well as his soul at the immediate disposal of the One whom he delighted to
call Lord. In 2 Corinthians he describes at some length how this had been
a feature of his ministry, and we note how the other part of the statement
proved true -- the Lord took care of him right through to the end of his
earthly pilgrimage. How any man could have endured all that he claims to
have passed through defies comprehension. He himself admitted that at times
he despaired of surviving. But he did survive!
Did he never know sickness and physical limitation? Of course he did.
God's servants, however devoted, cannot claim that it should be otherwise.
But he found hidden resources from the indwelling Spirit, and was able to
cheer his readers by telling them that "Though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16). There are various
interpretations of Paul's words to the Romans concerning our mortal bodies:
"Nevertheless once the Spirit of him who raised Christ Jesus from the dead
lives within you, he will, by that same Spirit, bring to your whole being
new strength and vitality" (Romans 8:11 J. B. Phillips). Of course
the complete transformation will not come until we have our immortal bodies,
but to me this promise can refer to our present mortal bodies.
Does this mean healing? Not necessarily. I have always understood that
it assures me that if my life is governed by the Lord, then He will be responsible
for my physical condition, in sickness as well as in health. To me this has
not only been doctrine, but has worked out in practical ways. Of course there
is always extra grace from the Lord, for alas, I have not always kept to
my side of the compact, but still the Lord has always been faithful to His
promise. "The Lord is for the body", and He will decide when its term of
service is to be finished and I will be "absent from the body and at home
with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8).
This reminds us that for us redemption is not merely a subject or an
event, but is a Person. Christ is made redemption to us so that "according
as it is written, He that boasts, let him boast in the Lord." Not a lot
is said in the Letters about the Second Coming of Christ. Even the thrilling
passage about the mystery of redemption which will be accomplished "In a
moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump" does not actually
mention Him (l Cor. 15:52). But Paul closes the First Epistle with words
which, because they are in the colloquial Aramaic, may well have been a
kind of watchword, "Maran atha" (16:22). We understand that they meant,
"The Lord is at hand" -- in other words, "The Day of our Redeemer's Coming
is near". How better can we terminate this dip into what Paul wrote to the
church at Corinth? [40/ibc]
(To be continued)
[Inside back cover]
ON THE WAY UP (14)
Psalm 133 LINKING UP
AMONG Christians, dividedness is a sign of immaturity (1 Corinthians
3:1-4). This is a sobering thought. The opposite is expressed in this psalm
for, as the pilgrims draw nearer to their Zion destination, the stress is
all upon the pleasure brought to the heart of God as they close their ranks,
linking up in sustained unity.
THE nearer they get to their goal, the more pleasure they bring to their
reigning Lord. The nearer they keep to Him, the nearer they find themselves
to one another. So it should be.
CHRISTIAN unity, however, is not an arrangement or merely an agreement:
it is a miracle. It has to come down from above. The two analogies given
here stress that fact. It is like the oil and like the dew.
THE anointing oil poured upon Aaron's head was not only precious and
fragrant, but it was also unique. It was as much as a man's life was worth
to imitate or misuse it (Exodus 30:32-33). It is said here to typify a unity
which is not the product of human effort or ability, but received as a gift
from above, running down from the High Priestly Head. This emphasises the
point that true unity depends upon the supremacy of the Lord Jesus.
THE dew is also spoken of as coming down, but the noteworthy feature
of this analogy is the great distance between Mount Hermon and Jerusalem.
"It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion". There is always
something of a wonder in the way in which dew collects overnight, but how
can the dew of Hermon be found on the mountains of Zion? Only by a divine
IT is the happy task of the ascending pilgrims to provide fragrance and
freshness to their Lord, but they can only do so by dwelling together in
THE final statement of the psalm takes up a theme which is common to
so many of the psalms, namely, blessing. There is the very special blessing
of life for evermore which expresses God's good pleasure, and in this case
the emphasis is strengthened by the fact that to this united band of brothers
comes a blessing which is not only promised or offered but actually commanded.
"There the Lord commanded the blessing ..."
WHY does He do this? Because such unity is expressive of His Son, and
the Father delights in all that does this. Where does He do it? On the mountains
of Zion where pilgrims journey upwards towards Himself. When does He do it?
Whenever these climbing pilgrims make every effort to keep the unity of
the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is always blessing for us when God
finds situations which are good and pleasant to Him.
THE LAW OF THY MOUTH IS BETTER UNTO ME
THAN THOUSANDS OF GOLD AND SILVER.
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