“This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you.” (Exodus 12:2)
New Year’s resolutions are good but fragile, that is, easily broken. New Year’s prayers are better; they ascend to the throne of God and set answering wheels in motion. As we come to the beginning of another year, we would do well to make the following prayer requests our own:
Lord Jesus, I rededicate myself afresh to You today. I want you to take my life this coming year and use it for Your glory. “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee.”
I pray that You will keep me from sin, from anything that will bring dishonor to Your Name.
Keep me teachable by the Holy Spirit. I want to move forward for You. Don’t let me settle in a rut.
May my motto this year be, “He must increase; I must decrease.” The glory must all be Yours. Help me not to touch it.
Teach me to make every decision a matter of prayer. I dread the thought of leaning on my own understanding. “I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps,” Jeremiah 10:23.
May I die to the world and even to the approval or blame of loved ones or friends. Give me a single, pure desire to do the things that please Your heart.
Keep me from gossip and criticism of others. Rather help me to speak what is edifying and profitable.
Lead me to needy souls. May I become a friend of sinners, as You are. Give me tears of compassion for the perishing. “Let me look on the crowd as my Savior did, till my eyes with tears grow dim. Let me view with pity the wandering sheep, and love them for love of Him.”
Lord Jesus, keep me from becoming cold, bitter or cynical in spite of anything that may happen to me in the Christian life.
Guide me in my stewardship of money. Help me to be a good steward of everything you have entrusted to me.
Help me to remember moment by moment that my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. May this tremendous truth influence all my behavior.
And, Lord Jesus, I pray that this may be the year of Your return. I long to see Your face and to fall at Your feet in worship. During the coming year, may the blessed hope stay fresh in my heart, disengaging me from anything that would hold me here and keeping me on the tiptoes of expectancy. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”
“In lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Philippians 2:3b)
To esteem others better than self is unnatural; fallen human nature rebels at such a blow to its ego. It is humanly impossible; we do not have the power in ourselves to live such an otherworldly life. But it is divinely feasible; the indwelling Holy Spirit empowers us to efface self in order that others might be honored.
Gideon illustrates our text. After his three hundred men had defeated the Midianites, he called for the men of Ephraim to add the final blow. They cut off the escape route and captured two Midianite princes. But they complained that they had not been called earlier. Gideon replied that the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim was better than the vintage of Abiezer (Judges 8:2), that is, the mopping-up operation conducted by the men of Ephraim was more illustrious than the whole campaign waged by Gideon. This spirit of selflessness appeased the Ephraimites.
Joab showed great unselfishness when he captured Rabbah and then called for David to come and administer the coup de grace (2 Samuel 12:26-28). Joab was quite content that David should get credit for the victory. It was one of the nobler moments in Joab’s life.
The Apostle Paul esteemed the Philippians better than himself. He said that what they were doing was the significant sacrifice to God, whereas he was nothing more than a drink offering, poured out over the sacrifice and service of their faith (Philippians 2:17).
In more recent times, a beloved servant of Christ was waiting in an anteroom with other distinguished preachers, ready to file out onto the platform. When he finally appeared at the door and a thunderous ovation took place, he quickly stepped aside so that those who were following him would receive the applause.
The supreme example of self-abnegation is the Lord Jesus. He humbled Himself that we might be exalted. He became poor that we might become rich. He died that we might live.
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”
“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)
One of the most deep-seated frailties of fallen humanity is the persistent tendency to judge according to appearance. We judge a person according to his looks. We judge a used car by its body. We judge a book by its cover. No matter how often we are disappointed and disillusioned, we stubbornly refuse to learn that “all is not gold that glitters.”
In his book Hide or Seek, Dr. James Dobson says that physical beauty is the most highly valued personal attribute in our culture. We have made it what he calls “the gold coin of human worth.” Thus a beautiful child is more favored by adults than a plain one. Teachers tend to give better grades to attractive children. Pretty children get less discipline than others. Homely children are more subject to blame for misdemeanors.
Samuel would have chosen the tall, good-looking Eliab to be king (1 Sam. 16:7), but the Lord corrected him, “Look not on his countenance or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”
The greatest case of misjudgment in history occurred when the Lord Jesus visited our planet. Apparently He was not prepossessing as far as physical appearance was concerned. He had no form or comeliness, and when men saw Him, no beauty that they should desire Him (Isa. 53:2). They could see no beauty in the only truly beautiful Person who ever lived!
Yet He Himself never fell into this terrible trap of judging according to looks, for before His advent, it was prophesied of Him, “He shall not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of His ears” (Isa. 11:3). To Him it was not the face but the character that counted. Not the cover but the contents. Not the physical but the spiritual.
“Not by might nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord.” (Zech. 4:6)
This verse enshrines the important truth that the work of the Lord is not carried on by human ingenuity and strength but by the Holy Spirit.
We see it in the capture of Jericho. It was not the armed might of Israel that caused the walls to fall down. The Lord was the One who delivered the city into their hands when the priests blew the trumpets seven times.
If it had depended on a huge army, Gideon would never have defeated the Midianites, because his army had been thinned down to three hundred men. And their unconventional weaponry consisted of earthenware pitchers with torches inside. It could only have been the Lord who gave them the victory.
Elijah purposely eliminated any possibility that human might or power might ignite the altar by pouring twelve barrels of water over it. When the fire fell, there could be no question as to its divine source.
Left to human ingenuity, the disciples could fish all night but catch nothing. That provided the opportunity for the Lord to show them that they must look to Him for true effectiveness in service.
It’s easy for us to think that money is the greatest need in Christian service. Actually it never was and never will be. Hudson Taylor was right when he said that what we need to fear is not too little money but too much unconsecrated money.
Or we resort to behind-the-scenes politicking, or to highpowered promotional programs, or to the psychological manipulation of people, or to clever oratory. We engage in vast construction programs and in organizational empire building, vainly thinking that these are the keys to success.
But it is not by might or by power or by any of these things that the work of God is forwarded. It is by the Spirit of the Lord.
Much so-called Christian work today would still continue if there were no Holy Spirit. But genuine Christian work is that which makes Him indispensable by waging the spiritual warfare, not with carnal weapons but with prayer, faith and the Word of God.
“The people that are with thee are too many for me…” (Judges 7:2)
Everyone of us has a subtle desire for numbers and a tendency to judge success by statistics. There is a measure of reproach connected with small groups whereas large crowds command attention and respect. What should our attitude be in this area?
Large numbers should not be despised if they are the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work. This was the case at Pentecost when about 3,000 souls were swept into the kingdom of God.
We should rejoice in large numbers when they mean glory for God and blessing for mankind. It is only proper for us to long to see multitudes lifting their hearts and voices in praise to God, and reaching out to the world with the message of redemption.
On the other hand, large numbers are bad if they lead to pride. God had to reduce Gideon’s army lest Israel should say, “Mine own hand hath saved me” (Judges 7:2). E. Stanley Jones once said he loathed our contemporary “scramble for numbers, leading, as it does, to collective egotism.”
Large numbers are bad if they lead to dependence on human power rather then on the Lord. This was probably the trouble with David’s census (2 Sam. 24:2-4). Joab sensed that the king’s motives were not pure and he protested—but in vain.
Large numbers are undesirable if, in order to achieve them, we lower standards, compromise Scriptural principles, water down the message, or fail to exercise godly discipline. There is always the temptation to do this if our minds are set on crowds rather than on the Lord.
Large numbers are less than ideal if they result in a loss of close fellowship. When individuals get lost in the crowd, when they can be absent and not be missed, when nobody shares their joys and sorrows, then the whole concept of body life is abandoned.
Large numbers are bad if they stifle the development of gift in the body. It is not without significance that Jesus chose 12 disciples. A huge crowd would have been unwieldy.
God’s general rule has been to work through a remnant testimony. He is not attracted by large crowds or repelled by small ones. We should not boast in large numbers, but neither should we be content with small numbers if they are the result of our own sloth and indifference.
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dxvelleth no good thing.” (Rom. 7:18)
If a young believer learns this lesson early in his Christian life, he will save himself from a world of trouble later on. The Bible teaches that there is NO GOOD THING in our old, evil un-regenerate nature. The flesh is absolutely no good. It is not improved one iota at the time of conversion. It is not improved by a lifetime of consistent Christian living. In fact, God is not trying to improve it. He has condemned it to death at the Cross and wants us to keep it in the place of death.
If I really believe this, it will deliver me from a futile search. I will not look for anything good where God has already said it can’t be found.
It will deliver me from disappointment. I am never disappointed when I don’t find any good in myself. I knew it wasn’t there in the first place.
It will deliver me from introspection. I start with the premise that there is no victory in self. In fact, self-occupation spells defeat.
It will guard me from psychological and psychiatric counseling which turns the searchlight on self. Such therapy only compounds the problem instead of solving it.
It teaches me to be occupied with the Lord Jesus. Robert Murray McCheyne said, “For every look you take at self, take ten looks at Christ.” That is a good balance! Someone else said that even a sanctified self is a poor substitute for a glorified Christ. And the hymnwriter wrote, “How sweet away from self to flee, and shelter in our Savior.”
Much modern preaching and many new Christian books send people on an introspective binge, occupying them with their temperament, their self-image, their hang-ups and inhibitions. The whole movement is a tragedy of overbalance and it leaves a trail of human wreckage.
“I am too bad to be worth thinking about; what I want is to forget myself and to look to God, who is indeed worthy of all my thoughts.”
“We walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:7)
Did you ever stop to wonder why a baseball game is more exciting to most people than a prayer meeting? Yet comparative attendance records prove that it is so.
Or we might ask, “Why is the Presidency of the United States more appealing than overseership in an assembly?” Parents don’t say to their sons, “Eat your food and some day you may be an elder.” No, they say, “Clean your plate and some day you may grow up to be President.”
Why is a successful career in business more attractive than the life of a missionary? Christians often discourage their children from going to the mission field, content to see them rise to be “titled officials in secular enterprises.”
Why is a television documentary more absorbing than the study of God’s Word? Think of the hours spent before the TV set and the hurried moments before the open Bible!
Why are people willing to do for dollars what they wouldn’t do for love to Jesus? Many who are tireless in their work for a corporation are lethargic and unresponsive when the Savior calls.
Finally why does our nation loom larger and more important than the Church? National politics are colorful and engrossing. The Church often seems to lumber on without dynamic.
The reason for all these things is that we walk by sight and not by faith. Our vision is distorted. We don’t see things as they actually are. We value the temporal above the eternal. We value the soulish above the spiritual. We value man’s judgment above God’s.
When we walk by faith, all is changed. We have 20/20 spiritual vision. We see things as God sees them. We value prayer as the unspeakable privilege of having direct audience with the Sovereign of the universe. We see that an elder in an assembly means more to God than the ruler of a nation. We see, with Spurgeon, that if God calls a man to be a missionary, it would be a tragedy to see him drivel down into a king.” We see television as a never-never land of unreality, whereas the Bible holds the key to a life of fulfilment. We are willing to spend and be spent for Jesus in a way we would never be willing for an unworthy impersonal corporation. And we reckon that our local church is more important to God and to His people than the greatest empire in the world.
Walking by faith makes all the difference!
“Cursed be he that doeth the work of Jehovah negligently.” (Jer. 48:10 ASV)
The work of the Lord is so important, pressing, sublime and awebegetting that a curse rests upon anyone who does it negligently. The God who wants and deserves the best cannot bear with sloth, delays, halfheartedness, or slipshod methods. When we think of the tremendous issues involved, we are not surprised.
During the latter part of 1968 a young Christian in Prague, Czechoslovakia witnessed to another young Czech named Jan Palach. There seemed to be a genuine interest on Jan’s part, and so the Christian promised to deliver a New Testament to him. He was filled with good intentions but he let weeks pass before he even obtained the New Testament. Then he kept delaying its actual delivery.
On January 16, 1969, Jan Palach stood in St. Wencelas Square, poured gasoline over his body and set himself afire. He never lived to see the New Testament that had been promised to him.
Good intentions are not enough. It has been said that the streets of hell are paved with good intentions. But they don’t get the work done. They must be translated into action. And here are a few ways to do it.
First, never refuse when the Lord directs you to do some act of service for Him. If He is Lord, then it is ours to obey without question.
Second, don’t procrastinate. Delays are deadly. They rob others of needed help and blessing, and fill us with guilt and remorse.
Third, do it diligently. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (Eccl. 9:10). If it’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing well.
Finally, do it for God’s glory. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God,” (1 Cor. 10:31).
We should all have the spirit of Amy Carmichael, who wrote, “The vows of God are upon me. I may not stay to play with shadows or pluck earthly flowers till I my work have done and rendered up an account.”
“…Show piety at home…” (1 Tim. 5:4)
You’ve heard the expression, “A devil at home, a saint abroad.” It describes the horrible tendency to be gracious and outgoing to those in the outside world and yet be harsh and unkind at home.
This is a failing that is not confined to any particular class of people. Young people have to guard against it. It’s so easy to be a TV personality with one’s peers, yet be a terror to one’s parents. Husbands may maintain a charming front with their business associates, then when they come home, they turn off the charm and are their normal, irritable selves. Preachers may have a scintillating style in the pulpit and a rotten disposition in the family room.
It is one of the perverse streaks of our fallen state that we are sometimes meanest to those who are closest to us, who do the most for us, and who, in our saner moments, we love the best. Thus Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote:
One great truth in life I’ve found,
Another poet echoed these sentiments as follows: “We have greetings for the stranger and smiles for the guest, but oft for our own the bitter tone, though we love our own the best.”
“It is very easy to have a church religion, or a prayer-meeting religion, or a Christian-work religion; but it is altogether a different thing to have an everyday religion. To ‘show piety at home’ is one of the most vital parts of Christianity, but it is also one far too rare; and it is not at all an uncommon thing to find Christians who ‘do their righteousness’ before outsiders ‘to be seen of men,’ but who fail lamentably in showing their piety at home. I knew a father of a family who was so powerful in prayer at the weekly prayer meeting, and so impressive in exhortation that the whole church was edified by his piety; but who, when he went home after the meetings, was so cross and ugly that his wife and family were afraid to say a word in his presence.” (H.W. Smith).
Samuel Johnson said, “Every animal revenges his pains upon those who happen to be near.” Man should avoid this natural tendency.
What we are at home is a truer index of our Christian character than what we are in public.
“…and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Heb. 12:1, NASB)
Many people have a view of the Christian life that is excessively idealistic. They think it should be one uninterrupted series of mountaintop experiences. They read Christian books and magazines and hear personal testimonies of dramatic events and conclude that this is all of life. In their dream-world, there are no problems, heartaches, trials and perplexities. There is no hard work, no daily routine, no monotony. All is Cloud 9. When they don’t find their life fitting this pattern, they feel discouraged, disillusioned and deprived.
The true facts are these. Most of the Christian life is what G. Campbell Morgan calls “the way of plodding perseverance in the doing of apparently small things.” This is the way I have found it. There has been a full share of menial tasks, of long hours of disciplined study, of service without apparent results. At times the question has arisen, “Is anything really being accomplished?” Just then the Lord would drop some token of encouragement, some wonderful answer to prayer, some clear word of guidance. And I would be strengthened to go on for a while longer.
The Christian life is a long-distance race, not a 50 yard dash, and we need endurance to run it. It is important to start well but what really counts is the endurance that enables us to finish in a blaze of glory.
Enoch will always have an honored place in the annals of endurance. He walked with God—think of it—for 300 years (Gen. 5:22). But we need not think that those were years of undiluted glamor or uninterrupted thrill. In a world like ours, it was inevitable that he should have his share of trials, perplexities and even persecutions. But he did not grow weary in well doing. He endured to the end.
If you are ever tempted to quit, remember the words of Heb. 10:36 NEB, “You need endurance if you are to do God’s will and win what He has promised.”
A noble life is not a blaze
“…that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” (Matt. 18:16).
As far as the Bible is concerned, there must be the testimony of two or three witnesses in order to form a valid judgment. If we would only observe this principle, we would save ourselves oceans of trouble.
The natural tendency for us is to hear one person’s side of a case and to immediately decide in his favor. He sounds convincing and our sympathies go out to him. Then later we learn that his was only one side of the story. When we hear the other side, we realize that the first man had distorted the facts or at least colored them in his own favor. Thus, “the first to plead his case seems just until another comes and examines him” (Prov. 18:17, NASB). When we make a decision before trying to ascertain the full facts, we act less righteously than the world’s judicial system and place ourselves under the censure of Prov. 18:13 NASB, “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.”
When Ziba reported to David that Mephibosheth hoped to gain the throne, David accepted the slander without investigation and gave all of Mephibosheth’s property to Ziba (2 Sam. 16:1-4). Later Mephibosheth had a chance to tell the king the true facts. David then realized that he had made a decision without having sufficient evidence.
The Lord Jesus recognized this principle. He said that His testimony concerning Himself was not sufficient (John 5:31). So He presented the testimony of four witnesses: John the Baptist (vv. 32-35); His works (v. 36); God, the Father (vv. 37, 38); the Scriptures (vv. 39, 40).
By failing to obtain the competent testimony of two or three witnesses, we can cause broken hearts, ruined reputations, divided churches and severed friendships. If we follow God’s Word, we will avoid tons of injustice and human hurt.
“…what hast thou that thou didst not receive?…” (1 Cor. 4:7)
This is a good question because it reduces us all to size. We do not have anything that we did not receive. We received our physical and mental equipment through birth. What we look like and how brainy we are is something too far beyond our control to justify pride. It is an accident of birth.
All that we know is a result of our education. Others have poured information into our minds. Often when we think we have had an original thought, we find it in a book we first read twenty years ago. Emerson said, “All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients.”
What about our talents? Some talents definitely run in the family. They are developed by training and by practice. But the point is that they did not originate with us. They were given to us.
Pilate was inflated by the authority he wielded, but the Lord Jesus reminded him, “You would have no authority over Me unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11, NASB).
In short, every breath man draws is a gift from God. That is why Paul goes on to ask in 1 Corinthians 4:7 (Phillips), “If anything has been given to you, why boast of it as if it were something you had achieved yourself?”
And that is why, for instance, Harriet Beecher Stowe refused to take any credit for writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin: “I, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin? No, indeed, I could not control the story; it wrote itself. The Lord wrote it, and I was but the humblest instrument in His hand. It all came to me in visions, one after another, and I put them down in words. To Him alone be the praise!”
The constant realization that we have nothing that we did not receive delivers us from boasting and self-congratulation, and leads us to give God the glory for anything good that we are or have done.
So, “let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his riches: but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord” (Jer. 9:23, 24).
“I can do all things through Christ which strengthened me.” (Phil. 4:13)
It is easy to misunderstand a verse like this. We read it and immediately think of hundreds of things that we cannot do. In the physical realm, for instance, we think of some ridiculous stunt requiring superhuman power. Or we think of some great mental achievement that lies far beyond us. So the words become a torture to us instead of a comfort.
What the verse actually means, of course, is that the Lord will give us power to do anything He wants us to do. Within the circle of His will there are no impossibilities.
Peter knew this secret. He knew that, left to himself, he couldn’t walk on water. But He also knew that if the Lord told him to do it, then he could do it. As soon as Jesus said, “Come,” Peter got out of the boat and strode across the water to Him.
Ordinarily a mountain will not slide into the sea at my command. But if that mountain stands between me and the accomplishment of God’s will, then I can say “Be removed,” and it will.
What it boils down to is that “His commands are His enablements.” Therefore He will provide strength to bear any trial. He will enable me to resist every temptation and conquer every habit. He will strengthen me to have a clean thought life, to have pure motives, and to always do the thing that pleases His heart.
If I am not getting the strength to accomplish something, if I am threatened with physical, mental or emotional collapse, then I may well question if I have missed His will and am seeking my own desires. It is possible to do work for God that may not be the work of God. Such work does not carry the promise of His power.
So it is important to know that we are moving forward in the current of His plans. Then we can have the joyous confidence that His grace will sustain and empower us.
“All things are yours.” (1 Cor. 3:21-23)
The unsaintly saints in Corinth had been squabbling over human leaders in the church. To some Paul was the ideal. Others made Apollos their favorite. And still others felt that Cephas was superlative. Paul is telling them that it is ridiculous to limit their choice to one when all these men belong to them. Instead of saying, “Apollos is mine,” they ought to say, “Paul, Apollos and Cephas are all mine.”
It is a word for us today. We err when we become exclusive followers of Luther, Wesley, Booth, Darby, Billy Graham or any other great gift to the Church. All these men are ours and we can rejoice in the measure of light that each of them gives to us. We shouldn’t become followers of any one man.
But it is not only servants of the Lord who are ours. The world is ours. We are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. One day we are going to come back and reign over the world with the Lord Jesus. In the meantime, unconverted men are running things as if the world belonged to them. But it doesn’t. They are simply caretakers, managing it for us until the day when we take possession.
Life is ours. This does not mean simply that we have life; all men have that. It means that we have the more abundant life, eternal life, the very life of Christ. Our life is not vanity and vexation of spirit. It is meaningful, purposeful and rewarding.
And death is ours. We are no longer subject to slavery all our lives through fear of death. Now death is the messenger of God that brings our souls to heaven. Therefore to die is gain. In addition to all this, we belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. When I think of this I am reminded of Guy King’s whimsical remark, “What fortunate beggars we are!”
“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” (Gal. 5:13)
The liberty of the child of God is one of his priceless possessions. Made free by the Son, he is free indeed. But he is called to responsible freedom, not to license.
Children want to be free from the restraints of home. Young people want to be free from the discipline of study. Adults want to be free from their marriage vows. Still others rebel against being boxed in by regular employment. But these are not the freedoms to which we are called.
The stars are not free to leave their orbits and wander throughout space. A train is not free to leave the tracks and meander over the countryside. A plane is not free to leave its assigned course; its safety depends on the pilot’s obeying the regulations.
Jowett comments, “There is no realm where the lawless are the free. In whatever way we wish to go we must accept bondage if we would discover liberty. A musician must reverence the laws of harmony if he would exult in his lovely world. A builder must put himself in bondage to the law of gravity, or it is not a house that emerges, but a rubbish-heap. What sort of liberty does a man enjoy who consistently defies the laws of health? In all these realms to trespass is to be maimed, to pay homage is to be free.”
It is true that the believer is free from the law (Rom. 7:3) but that does not mean that he is lawless. He is now enlawed to Christ, bound by the cords of love, and committed to obey the numerous commandments that are found in the New Testament.
The believer is free from sin as master (Rom. 6:7, 18, 22) but only to become a servant to God and to righteousness.
The believer is free from all men (1 Cor. 9:19) in order to become a servant to all, that he might win the more.
But he is not free to use his liberty as a pretext for evil (1 Pet. 2:16 RSV). He is not free to indulge the flesh (Gal. 5:13). He is not free to stumble or offend another person (1 Cor. 8:9). He is not free to bring dishonor on the Name of the Lord Jesus (Rom. 2:23, 24). He is not free to love the world (1 John 2:15-17). He is not free to grieve the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19).
Man does not find fulfillment or rest in doing his own thing. He finds it only in taking Christ’s yoke and learning of Him. “His service is perfect freedom.”
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time.” (Jonah 3:1)
Here is a message that glows with hope and promise. Just because a man has failed does not mean that God has put him on the shelf.
David’s failures are recorded with stark realism. As we read them, we sit in the dust with him and burn with shame. But David knew how to break before the Lord, how to repent with bloodearnestness. And God was not through with him. God forgave him and restored him to a life of fruitfulness.
Jonah failed to answer God’s missionary call and wound up in the belly of a great fish. In that animate submarine, he learned to obey. When God called him the second time, he went to Nineveh, preached imminent judgment, and saw the whole city plunged into deepest repentance.
John Mark made a brilliant start with Paul and Barnabas, but then he copped out and went home. God did not abandon him, however. Mark returned to the battle, regained the confidence of Paul, and was commissioned to write the Gospel of the Unfailing Servant.
Peter failed the Lord in spite of his protestations of undying loyalty. Men would write him off by saying that the bird with the broken wing could never fly as high again. But God did not write him off and Peter flew higher than ever. He opened the doors of the kingdom to 3000 at Pentecost. He labored tirelessly and suffered repeatedly at the hands of persecutors. He wrote the two epistles which bear his name, then crowned a glorious life of service with a martyr’s death.
So when it comes to service, God is the God of the second chance. He is not through with a man just because that man has failed. Whenever He finds a broken and a contrite heart, he bows to lift up the head of his fallen soldier.
This must not be taken to condone sin or failure, however. The bitterness and remorse of having failed the Lord should serve as sufficient deterrent.
Neither does it mean that God gives the unrepentant sinner a second chance after this life. There is a terrible finality about death. For the man who dies in his sins, the awful sentence is, “Wherever the tree falls, there it lies.” (Eccl. 11:3 NASB).
“With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men.” (Eph. 6:7)
Paul’s instructions to slaves (Eph. 6:5-8) are freighted with meaning for all who profess to be servants of Jesus Christ.
They show, first of all, that any honorable work, no matter how menial it is, can be done to the glory of God. The slaves to whom Paul wrote may have mopped floors, cooked meals, washed dishes, tended animals or cultivated crops. Yet the Apostle said that these chores could be done “as unto Christ” (v. 5); that in performing them, the slaves were “the bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God” (v. 6); that they were “doing service, as to the Lord” (v. 7); and that they would be rewarded by the Lord for “doing a good job” (v. 8).
It is easy in our thinking to make a dichotomy between the secular and the sacred. We think of our week-day work as being secular whereas our preaching, witnessing and Bible teaching are sacred. But this passage teaches that for the Christian there need be no such distinction. Realizing this, the wife of a well-known preacher put a motto over her kitchen sink, “Divine services conducted here three times daily.”
A servant with this clause
There is another choice lesson here, namely, that no matter how low a person may be on the social ladder, he is not shut out from the choicest blessings and rewards of Christianity. He may never exchange his work clothes for a business suit, but if his work is of such good quality as to bring glory to Christ, he will receive a full reward. “Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free” (v. 8).
Believing this, we should pray, in the lines of George Herbert:
Teach me, my God and King,
“My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight…” (John 18:36)
The fact that Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world is enough to keep me out of the world’s politics. If I participate in politics, then I am casting a vote of confidence in the system’s ability to solve the world’s problems. But frankly I have no such confidence because I know that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19).
Politics has proved singularly ineffective in solving the problems of society. Political remedies are nothing but a Band-Aid on a festering sore; they do not get at the source of the infection. We know that sin is the basic trouble in our sick society. Anything that fails to deal with sin cannot be taken seriously as a cure.
It becomes a matter of priorities, then. Should I spend time in political involvement or should I devote that same time to the spread of the Gospel? Jesus answered the question when He said, “Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60). Our top priority must be to make Christ known because He is the answer to this world’s problems.
“The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4). This being so, we come to the daring realization that we can shape national and international history through prayer, fasting and the Word of God more than we could ever do through the ballot.
A public figure once said that politics is by its very nature corrupt. He added this word of warning: “The church should not forget its true function by trying to participate in an area of human affairs where it must be a poor competitor…It will lose its purity of purpose by participating.”
God’s program for this age is to call out of the nations a people for His name (see Acts 15:14). Rather than making people comfortable in a corrupt world, He is committed to saving people out of it. I should be committed to working with God in this glorious emancipation.
When the people asked Jesus how to work the works of God, He answered that the work of God is to believe on Him whom God had sent (see John 6:28,29). This then is our mission—to lead men to belief, not to the ballot-box.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Without the assurance of this verse, it would be practically impossible to go on in the Christian life. As we grow in grace, we have a deepening awareness of our utter sinfulness. We must have some provision for instant cleansing for sins, otherwise we are doomed to perpetual guilt and defeat.
John tells us that, for believers, provision is made through confession. The unbeliever receives judicial forgiveness from the penalty of sins through faith in the Lord Jesus. The believer receives parental forgiveness from the defilement of sins through confession.
Sin breaks fellowship in the life of the child of God, and that fellowship remains broken till the sin is confessed and forsaken. When we confess, God is faithful to His Word; He has promised to forgive. He is just in forgiving because the work of Christ at the Cross has provided a righteous basis on which He may do so.
What this verse means, then, is that when we confess our sins, we can know that the record is clear, that we have been completely cleansed, that the happy family spirit has been restored. As soon as we are conscious of sin in our lives, we can go into the presence of God, call that sin by its name, repudiate it, and know with certainty that it has been put away.
But how do we know for certain? Do we feel forgiven? It is not at all a question of feelings. We know that we have been forgiven because God says so in His Word. Feelings are undependable at best. God’s Word is sure.
But suppose someone says, “I know that God has forgiven me but I can’t forgive myself”? This might sound very pious but actually it is dishonoring to God. If God has forgiven me, then He wants me to appropriate that forgiveness by faith, to rejoice in it, and to go out and serve Him as a cleansed vessel.
“And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” (Heb. 10:17)
God’s ability to forget sins that have been covered by the blood of Christ is one of the most soul-satisfying truths in Scripture.
It is a great wonder when we read, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psa. 103:12). It is a marvel that we can say with Hezekiah, “Thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back” (Isa. 38:17). It boggles the mind when we hear the Lord saying, “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins” (Isa. 44:22). But it is even more wonderful when we read, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34).
When we confess our sins, He not only forgives, He forgets instantly. We are not stretching the truth when we say that He immediately buries our sins in the sea of His forgetfulness. This is illustrated by the experience of a believer who was having a ding-dong struggle with a besetting sin. In a moment of weakness, he gave in to the temptation. Rushing into the presence of the Lord, he blurted out, “Lord, I’ve done it again.” Then he thought he heard the Lord saying, “What have you done again?” The point, of course, is that in that split second following confession, God had already forgotten.
This is a delightful paradox-that the omniscient God can forget. On the one hand He knows everything. He counts the stars and names each one. He numbers our tossings and keeps count of our tears. He marks the sparrow’s fall. He numbers the hairs of our head. And yet He forgets those sins that have been confessed and forsaken. David Seamands said, “I don’t know how divine omniscience can forget but I know it does.”
There is one final point! It has been well said that when God forgives and forgets, He puts up a sign reading “No fishing.” It is forbidden for me to fish up my own past sins or the sins of others that God has forgotten. In this respect we must have a poor memory and a good forgettery.
“But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.” (1 Sam. 16:14)
There are verses in the Bible that seem to assign evil actions to God. For example, when Abimelech had reigned three years over Israel, “God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem” Qudg. 9:23). In the days of Ahab, Micaiah said to the wicked king, “The Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets” (1 King 22:23). Job attributed his losses to the Lord when he said, “What? shall we receive good at the hands of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). Then again the Lord Himself says in Isaiah 45:7, “I make peace, and create evil.”
Yet we know that because God is holy, He can neither originate evil nor condone it. No sin, sickness, suffering or death come from the Lord. He is light, and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). It is unthinkable that He should be the cause of anything that is contrary to His own moral perfection.
It is clear from other scriptures that Satan is the author of disease, suffering, tragedy and destruction. Job’s losses and intense pain were caused by the Devil. Jesus said that the woman who was bent double had been bound by Satan for eighteen long years (Lu. 13:16). Paul spoke of his thorn in the flesh as “the messenger of Satan” (2 Cor. 12:7). Satan is the culprit behind all the troubles of mankind.
But how then do we reconcile this with the verses that picture God as creating evil? The explanation is simply this: in the Bible God is often said to do what He permits to be done. It is the difference between His directive will and His permissive will. He often allows His people to go through experiences that He never would have chosen for them in the first place. He allowed Israel to wander forty years in the wilderness whereas His directive will, if it had been accepted, would have brought them into the Promised Land by a shorter route.
Even in permitting the evil of demons and of man, God always has the last word. He overrules it for His own glory and for the blessing of those who are exercised by it.
“He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel.” (Num. 23:21)
The hireling prophet, Balaam, spoke a remarkable truth when he said that the all-seeing God could not see sin in His people, Israel. What was true of Israel then is wonderfully true of the believer today. As God looks upon him, He cannot find a single sin for which to punish him with eternal death. The believer is “in Christ”. That means that he stands before God in all the perfection and worthiness of Christ. God accepts him in all the acceptability of His own beloved Son. It is a position of favor that cannot be improved on and that will never end. Search as He may, God cannot find any charge against the one who is in Christ.
This is illustrated by an incident involving an Englishman and his Rolls Royce. He was touring France on his vacation when the rear axle broke. The local garage could not replace the axle, so they phoned to England. The company sent not only a rear axle, but two mechanics to see that it was properly installed. The Englishman continued on his trip, then returned to England, expecting to receive the bill. When months passed and no bill arrived, he wrote to the company, described the entire incident and asked for the bill. Shortly afterwards, he received a letter from the company saying, “We have searched our records carefully and can find no record of a Rolls Royce ever having had a broken rear axle.”
God can search His records carefully and can find no record of any sin on a believer’s account that would condemn him to hell. The believer is accepted in the Beloved One. He is complete in Christ. He is clothed in all the righteousness of God. He has an absolutely perfect standing before God. He can say with triumph and confidence:
Reach my blest Savior first;
“Seekest thou great things for thyself; seek them not.”(Jer. 45:5)
There is a subtle temptation, even in Christian service, to become great, to see one’s name in the magazines or hear it over the radio. But it is a great snare. It robs Christ of glory. It robs ourselves of peace and joy. And it makes us prime targets for the Devil’s bullets.
It robs Christ of Glory. As C. H. Mackintosh said, “There is always the utmost danger when a man or his work becomes remarkable. He may be sure Satan is gaining his objective when attention is drawn to aught or anyone but the Lord Jesus Himself. A work may be commenced in the greatest possible simplicity, but through lack of holy watchfulness and spirituality on the part of the workman, he himself or the results of his work may attract general attention, and he may fall into the snare of the devil. Satan’s grand and ceaseless object is to dishonor the Lord Jesus. And if he can do this by what seems to be Christian service, he has achieved all the greater victory for the time.” Denney also said it well, “No man can at one and the same time prove that he is great and that Christ is wonderful.”
We rob ourselves in the process. Someone said, “I never knew real peace and joy in service until I ceased trying to be great.”
And the desire to be great makes us sitting ducks for Satanic attack. The fall of a well-known personality brings greater reproach on the cause of Christ.
John the Baptist assiduously renounced any claims to greatness. His motto was, “He must increase; I must decrease.”
We too should sit down in the lowest place until the Lord calls us to go up higher. A good prayer for each of us is, “Keep me little and unknown, loved and prized by Christ alone.”
Nazareth was a little place—
“Don’t worry over anything whatever.” (Phil. 4:6, Phillips)
There is so much that a person could worry about—the possibility of cancer, heart trouble or a multitude of other diseases; foods that are supposedly harmful, accidental death, a communist takeover, nuclear war, runaway inflation, an uncertain future, the grim outlook for children growing up in a world like this. The possibilities are numberless.
And yet we are told in God’s Word, “Don’t worry over anything whatever.” God wants us to have lives that are free of care. And for good reasons!
Worry is unnecessary. The Lord is looking out for us. He holds us in the palms of His hands. Nothing can happen to us apart from His permissive will. We are not the victims of blind chance, accidents or fate. Our lives are planned, ordered, directed.
Worry is futile. It never solves a problem or avoids a crisis. As someone has said, “Anxiety never robs tomorrow of its sorrow; it only saps today of its strength.”
Worry is harmful. Doctors are agreed that many of their patients’ ailments are caused by worry, tension, nerves. Ulcers rate high on the list of worry-related maladies.
Worry is sin. “It doubts the wisdom of God; it implies He doesn’t know what He is doing. It doubts the love of God; it says He doesn’t care. It doubts the power of God; it says He is not able to overcome the circumstances that cause me to worry.”
Too often we are proud of our worrying. When a husband reproached his wife for her incessant worrying, she replied, “If I didn’t worry, there’d be precious little of it done around here.” We will never get deliverance from it until we confess it as sin and utterly renounce it. Then we can say with confidence:
I have nothing to do with tomorrow,
“God is love.” (I John 4:8).
The coming of Christ brought a new word for love into the Greek language—agape. There was already a word for friendship (philia) and one for passionate love (eros), but there was none to express the kind of love which God showed in giving His only begotten Son and which He calls on His people to show to one another.
This is another-worldly love, a love with new dimensions. The love of God had no beginning and it can have no end. It is a love that has no limit, that can never be measured. It is absolutely pure, free from all taint of lust. It is sacrificial, never counting the cost. Love manifests itself in giving, for we read, “God so loved the world that He gave…” and “Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us…” Love ceaselessly seeks the welfare of others. It goes out to the unlovely as well as to the lovely. It goes out to its enemies as well as to its friends. It is not drawn out by any worthiness or virtue in its objects but only by the goodness of the donor. It is utterly unselfish, never looking for anything in return and never exploiting others for personal advantages. It does not keep a count of wrongs, but throws a kindly veil over a multitude of slights and insults. Love repays every discourtesy with a kindness, and prays for its would-be murderers. Love always thinks of others, esteeming them better than self.
But love can be firm. God chastens those whom He loves. Love cannot countenance sin because sin is harmful and destructive, and love desires to protect its objects from harm and destruction.
The greatest manifestation of God’s love was the giving of His beloved Son to die for us on the Cross of Calvary.
Who Thy love, O God, can measure,
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” (1 John 4:11).
We must not think of love as an uncontrollable, unpredictable emotion. We are commanded to love, and this would be quite impossible if love were some elusive, sporadic sensation, coming as unaccountably as a common cold. Love does involve the emotions but it is more a matter of the will than of the emotions.
We must also guard against the notion that love is confined to a world of dream castles with little relation to the nitty-gritty of everyday life. For every hour of moonlight and roses, there are weeks of mops and dirty dishes.
In other words, love is intensely practical. For instance, when a plate of bananas is passed at the table and one has black spots, love takes that one. Love cleans the washbasin and bathtub after using them. Love replaces paper towels when the supply is gone so that the next person will not be inconvenienced. Love puts out the lights when they are not in use. It picks up the crumpled Kleenex instead of walking over it. It replaces the gas and oil after using a borrowed car. Love empties the garbage without being asked. It doesn’t keep people waiting. It serves others before self. It takes a squalling baby out so as not to disturb the meeting. Love speaks loudly so that the deaf can hear. And love works in order to have the means to share with others.
Love has a hem to its garment
It dare not rest on the mountain;
“Redeeming the time.” (Eph. 5:16)
In a day when men of the world are becoming increasingly allergic to work, Christians must make the most of every passing moment. It is a sin to waste time.
Voices from every age testify to the importance of diligent labor. The Savior Himself said, “I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day; the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4).
Thomas a Kempis wrote, ‘“Never be idle or vacant; be always reading or writing or praying or meditating or employed in some useful labor for the common good.”
When asked the secret of his success as an interpreter of the Word, G. Campbell Morgan said, “Work—hard work—and again, work!”
We should never forget that when the Lord Jesus came into the world, He served as a carpenter. The greater part of His life was spent in the shop in Nazareth.
Paul was a tentmaker. He considered it an important part of his ministry.
It is a mistake to think that work is a result of the entrance of sin. Before sin entered, Adam was placed in the garden to dress it and to keep it (Gen. 2:15). The curse involved the toil and sweat that accompany work (Gen. 3:19). Even in heaven there will be work, for “his servants shall serve him” (Rev. 22:3).
Work is a blessing. Through it we find fulfillment of our need for creativity. The mind and body function best when we work diligently. When we are usefully occupied, we enjoy greater protection from sin, because “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do” (I. Watts). Thomas Watson said, “Idleness tempts the devil to tempt.” Honest, diligent, faithful work is a vital part of our Christian testimony. And the results of our labor may outlive us. As someone has said, “Everyone owes it to himself to provide himself with some useful occupation while his body is lying in the grave.” And William James said, “The great use of a life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”
“He that believeth shall not make haste.” (Isa. 28:16)
In an age of supersonic travel and highspeed communications, in a culture where hurry is the watchword, it brings us up short to learn that haste is seldom used of God in a good sense in the Bible. Seldom, I say, because there is the instance where the father runs to meet the returning prodigal, suggesting that God hastens to forgive. But generally speaking, God is not in a hurry.
When David said, “The king’s business required haste” (1 Sam. 21:8), he was guilty of subterfuge, and we should not use his words to justify our frenetic rushing back and forth. The plain truth is, as our text states, if we are really trusting the Lord, we don’t have to be in a hurry. The urgency of our task can be better served by a quiet walk in the Spirit than by a frenzy of carnal activity.
Here is a young man who is in a hurry to get married. He reasons that if he doesn’t act quickly, someone else might get the girl. The truth is that if God wants that girl for him, no one else can get her. If she is not God’s choice, then he will have to learn the hard way, “Marry in haste; repent at leisure.”
Another is in a hurry to go into so-called full-time work. He argues that the world is perishing and that he cannot wait. Jesus did not argue that way during the years in Nazareth. He waited till God called Him forth to public ministry.
Too often we are in a hurry in our personal evangelism. We are so anxious to rack up professions that we pick the fruit before it is ripe. We fail to allow the Holy Spirit to thoroughly convict the person of sin. The result of such a method is a trail of false professions and of human wreckage. We should “let patience have her perfect work” (James 1:4).
The true effectiveness of our lives lies not in rushing madly about on self-appointed missions, but in Spirit-directed activity that is ascertained by patiently waiting on the Lord.
“Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.” (Matt. 11:26)
In almost everyone’s life there are things which he never would have chosen, which he would like to be rid of, but which can never be changed. There is the matter of physical impairments or abnormalities. Or it may be a chronic, low-grade illness that will not leave us alone. Again it may be a nervous or emotional disorder that lingers as a most unwelcome guest.
So many live defeated lives, dreaming of what might have been if only. If only they were taller. If only they were better looking. If only they had been born in a different family, race or even sex. If only they were built to excel in athletics. If only they could know perfect health.
The lesson that these people should learn is that there is peace in accepting what cannot be changed. What we are, we are by the grace of God. He has planned our lives with infinite love and infinite wisdom. If we could see as well as He, we would have arranged things exactly as He has done. Therefore we should be able to say, “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.”
But there is a step further. We don’t have to accept these things in a spirit of meek resignation. Knowing that they were permitted by a God of love, we can make them the cause of praise and rejoice. Paul prayed three times that his thorn in the flesh might be removed. When the Lord promised grace to bear the thorn, the Apostle exclaimed, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9).
It is one of the signs of spiritual maturity when we can rejoice in the seemingly adverse circumstances in life and use them as means of glorifying God. Fanny Crosby learned the lesson early in life. When she was only eight, the blind poetess wrote:
Oh, what a happy child I am
How many blessings I enjoy
“Freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matt. 10:8)
Fritz Kreisler, one of the world’s greatest violinists said, “I was born with music in my system. I knew musical scores instinctively before I knew my ABC’s. It was a gift of Providence. I did not acquire it. So I do not even deserve thanks for the music…Music is too sacred to be sold. And the outrageous prices the musical celebrities charge today are truly a crime against society.”
These are words that everyone in Christian work might take to heart. The Christian ministry is a ministry of giving, not of getting. The question is not, “What is there in it for me?” but rather “How can I best share the message with the greatest number?” In the service of Christ, it is far better that things should cost rather than that they should pay.
It is true that “The labourer is worthy of his hire” (Luke 10:7) and that “They which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:14). But this does not justify a man’s setting a price on his gift. It does not justify charging exorbitant royalties for the use of hymns. It does not justify unconscionable fees for speaking or singing engagements.
Simon the Sorcerer wanted to buy the power of conferring the Holy Spirit on others (Acts 8:19). No doubt he saw this as a way of making money for himself. By his action, he gave his name to our language (simony) to describe the buying or selling of religious privileges. It is no overstatement to say that the religious world today is shot through with simony.
If the dollar could somehow be removed from so-called Christian work, a great deal of it would stop immediately. But there would still be faithful servants of the Lord who would press on till their last ounce of strength was expended.
We have received freely; we ought to give freely. The more we give, the wider the blessing, and the greater the reward—good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.
“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” (Matt. 7:1).
People who know little else about the Bible often know this verse and use it in a most bizarre way. Even when a person is criticized for unspeakable wickedness, they piously gurgle, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” In other words, they use the verse to forbid any condemnation of evil.
The plain fact of the matter is that, while there are areas where we must not judge, there are other areas where judgment is commanded.
Here are some instances where judging is out. We must not judge people’s motives; not being omniscient, we cannot know why they do what they do. We mustn’t sit in judgment on the service of another believer; to his own Master he stands or falls. We mustn’t condemn those who have conscientious scruples about things that are morally neutral; it would be wrong for them to violate their conscience. We mustn’t judge by outward appearances or show respect of persons; it’s what is in the heart that counts. And certainly we should avoid a harsh, critical censorious spirit; a habitual fault-finder is a poor advertisement for the Christian faith.
But there are other areas where we are commanded to judge. We must judge all teaching to see whether it agrees with the Scriptures. In order to avoid unequal yokes, we must judge whether others are true believers. Christians should judge disputes between believers rather than allow them to go to civil courts. The local church must judge in cases of extreme forms of sin and disfellowship the guilty offender. Those in the church must judge which men have the qualifications of elders and of deacons.
God does not expect us to throw away our critical faculty or abandon all moral and spiritual standards. All He asks is that we refrain from judging where it is forbidden and that we judge righteously where it is commanded.