Delegates to the PRYP’s 1981 Convention,
Beloved Young People and Friends:
First of all, we wish to express our deep appreciation for having been chosen to be one of the speakers to this convention. This honor we have enjoyed several times before when we were in the active ministry. But we want you to know that we consider it a great honor to be called for this task out of retirement. That the committee for arrangements asked the oldest living minister to speak was by itself a most inspiring incentive to respond favorably. And when we relate this request to the theme chosen for this convention, the call to speak became all the more inspiring. We remind you that youth is certainly not out of step when it honors its elders.
In the second place, we wish to compliment our young people on your choice of a theme for this convention. It seems to me that you could not have chosen a more appropriate and timely subject. It augers well that our young people living in these last days are concerned with the implications of your theme. In the last years of our active ministry we not only called attention in our preaching to those signs that speak of the nearness of Christ’s coming, but we stressed the proposition that in our view all preaching must have but one objective, namely, to prepare God’s people for the coming of the Lord.
In the third place, from all that has been said by the three previous speakers to this convention, it must have become very evident to you that the signs of Christ’s coming are indeed abundant. I consider it part of the duty of the last speaker to briefly summarize what has been said, and then to draw a final conclusion of the matter. As the first speaker pointed out, there are many signs of Christ’s coming evident today in our world. And, as the second speaker stressed, there are also many important signs in evidence today in the church world. All of which, as the third speaker emphasized, should prevent us from being deceived.
And now in the fourth place, we wish to point out that in spite of all the signs of Christ’s coming, the striking thing is that no one knows the precise hour of the Lord’s coming. It is especially this that the Lord stresses in the last part of Matthew 24, which has served as the Scriptural basis for the theme of this convention. Already in verse 36 the Lord informs us that the Father has reserved the knowledge of the hour of Christ’s coming Himself. In a parallel passage in Mark 13:22, the Lord informs us that even He did not know the hour while He was pointing to the signs of His coming. The text reads: “But of the day and the hour knoweth no man, no, not angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” Without getting into a long doctrinal dissertation respecting the natures of Christ, let me say that we simply conclude from this statement that Christ, according to His human nature, and as He was speaking to His disciples, did not know the precise hour of His return. But notice again in two more places how Christ stresses the ignorance of us to know the hour. In verse 42 He states, “Ye know not the hour your Lord doth come.” And in verse 44 He states, “For in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh.”
This, of course, raises the question: Why didn’t the Father inform us precisely as to the exact hour of Christ’s return? Would not our covenant God have done us a great service if He had given us this information? Now it will be the burden of the rest of our speech this evening to show to you the divine wisdom in withholding from us this knowledge, and this will lead us to set forth positively the subject that was assigned to me.
OUR ATTITUDE TOAWRD THESE SIGNS
- What that attitude must be.
- How the Lord illustrates what that attitude will be.
- The blessedness of assuming the proper attitude.
- What that attitude must be.
The key attitude toward the signs of Christ’s coming as expressed by the Lord is announced in verse 42. “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.” Watchfulness is the key word. The antonym of watchfulness is: carelessness, heedlessness, inattentiveness, unmindfulness; all of which terms indicate the very opposite attitude of watchfulness. If you are not watchful with respect to the sign of Christ’s coming, you will be careless, indifferent, unmindful of His coming. Watchfulness, on the other hand, implies that you will be wide awake and alerted by the signs, and you will be constantly vigilant and expecting Him. With respect to the signs of Christ’s coming, it means that you will be constantly looking for them. And that implies that you know those signs, and that you are able to detect them when they appear. It implies that you are constantly on the look-out for them. There is not a moment when they are not on your mind and in your thoughts. You are able to detect them as soon as they appear. You are able to associate them with Christ’s coming, and they are as so many soundings of the footsteps of the Saviour as He makes His approach to us.
The second attitude, related now to the actual coming of the Lord, is expressed by the Lord in verse 44. There we read: “Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” Preparedness follows quite naturally watchfulness, and must be understood as a result of it. If we are not watchful, it follows that we will be wholly unprepared. On the other hand, when we are vigilant we will be constantly preparing ourselves, and therefore ready for His appearance. Preparedness implies first of all that we get ourselves ready for His coming. And when we consider ourselves in terms of householders, stewards, as the Lord speaks of them in our passage, it implies that the household which belongs to the Lord will also be made ready. The housewife who loves her husband, and expects him to return home at any moment, does not greet him at the door wearing a sloppy and grimy dress; nor will she allow him to find her with her hair disheveled, and the house into which he is about to enter looking like a pig’s sty. Nor will we who are seriously watching for our Lord’s return allow ourselves to be found wholly unready for His coming, or the things over which He has placed us in charge to be found by Him in disarray and confusion.
Now it must be pointed out at this juncture that both of these attitudes, namely, of vigilance and preparedness, are stressed by the Lord in the light of the fact that we do not know the day nor the hour of Christ’s return. Notice this in the text. “Be watchful therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.” and again, “on account of this be ye also ready, for in an hour when ye think not, the Son of man cometh.” You may be sure, beloved, that if the Lord had revealed to us the hour of His coming, the danger exists that we might be slothful and indifferent. Need I remind you that though we are children of God, we are that in an old nature? And according to that old nature, we do not want the Lord to return. When Christ shall return, our old nature will be destroyed along with the present world that always fans the evil lusts of our nature into a flame. So our corrupt nature does not want Christ to return. You can understand that, Moreover, if God had revealed to us the hour of Christ’s return, you can bank on it, our old nature would take advantage of us and make us to be slothful and indifferent. That is evidently the reason why God has not revealed to us the hour of Christ’s coming; in order that the new man in Christ in us may subdue that old nature, and cause us to be watchful and ready, and to live in the expectation that at any time Christ may return. Now we know, of course, that Christ cannot return at any moment. We are not Premillennial or Dispensationalists, who say that Christ may come at any time. Christ can come only after all the precursory signs of His coming have been fulfilled or realized. Our calling is to be constantly looking for these signs; and it is incumbent upon us that we are always ready. Such are the proper attitudes we are to assume with respect to the signs of Christ’s coming, and with respect to the Parousia itself. But the question arises: will these be the attitudes we will assume? This leads me to my second thought.
2. How the Lord illustrates what that attitude will be.
You will observe that in the last part of Matthew 24 the Lord speaks parabolically. The parable begins with verse 43, where the Lord speaks of the good man or master of the household, who will not suffer the house to be invaded by the thief. If he is true to his calling, he will be vigilant and ready to prevent an invasion by the intruder. The parable continues in verses 45 to the end of the chapter, where the Lord speaks of the master of the household whom his Lord has made to be ruler over his household. That master or ruler over the household is further described by the Lord in terms of his being a faithful and prudent servant, and in terms of his being an evil servant. If he is a faithful and prudent servant, he will be diligently providing food for the household, and he will be so doing when his Lord returns to inspect his labors. If, on the other hand, that servant is an evil man, he will conduct himself in the manner the Lord describes in the parable. His evil conduct is motivated by the evil thoughts of his heart, according to-which he imagines that his Lord delays his return, and therefore he begins to smite his fellow servants instead of feeding them, and he begins to eat and drink with the drunken. Such are, briefly speaking, the elements in the parable.
The point of comparison in the parable is the attitude of the householder with respect to the return of his lord, when that householder is a good and faithful servant, and when that householder is an evil servant. If he is a good and faithful servant, he will be performing his duties faithfully until his lord returns. On the other hand, that same servant if he is an evil man, will be conducting himself as the Lord describes him in the parable.
Now it would be a serious error in our opinion to spiritualize the elements in this parable. This is done by some, when they explain the household to be the church, and the servants to be the office-bearers of the church. With this explanation of the parable we find it difficult to agree. Though it is true that the Lord is speaking here to His disciples, there is no suggestion in the entire context that the Lord has in mind the particular calling of these disciples with respect to the church.
Rather, we believe, the point of comparison in the parable is the attitude of every man with respect to the return of Christ. No man, whether he be a disciple of Christ or not, has a right to ignore Christ’s lordship. Every man, whether he be a child of God or a wicked man, has a calling to serve Christ. Every man, whether he be righteous or wicked, is accountable to Christ, and will give that account when Christ appears. In one word, what the Lord describes in the parable is the attitude of all men with respect to Christ’s
coming with a two-fold description. Either that man will be faithful and prudent, and therefore vigilant and prepared for Christ’s coming; or, that man, occasioned by Christ’s apparent delay, will be eating and drinking with the drunken, inattentive in respect to Christ’s coming, misusing his calling by assuming the position of lordship, and thus smiting his fellow servants. And when the Lord comes that man will be caught with complete surprise. You see, in the end both are confronted by the appearance of Christ. That makes the parable to be most significant.
There is something here of a doctrinal nature and of great significance to us that we wish to call to your attention.
Generally in our view of the covenant idea we are inclined to limit that conception to the generations of the believers and their seed. And that seed in its development is then composed two-fold, in elect and reprobate seed.
However, there is a broader conception, which embraces the world and all men. To understand this, we must keep in mind that when God created the world and man upon it, He established with that man a covenant-friendship relation. Adam was created God’s covenant friend-servant. As such he was mandated by the Lord to cultivate the earth and to care for God’s world.
We know, of course, that man did not remain in his state of rectitude. Through the temptation of the devil and by the act of willful disobedience he rebelled against Jehovah his God, assumed the position of lord in the creation, confiscated as it were God’s creation to himself. All this in opposition to Jehovah. And all his posterity followed him in the rebellion, refusing to serve the living God. So all men stand in the midst of God’s creation with fists raised in rebellion against God, using all the tools of God’s workshop to their own advantage.
This, of course, is not merely accidental, but all this takes place under the decree and all-wise purpose of God, Who from everlasting determined to realize His covenant through the way of sin and grace. Hence, as we are informed in John 3: 16, God, Who love His world, gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him might have eternal life. Those who believe on Him do not do that of themselves; it is given to them of grace. Out of the mass of fallen humanity there are those who were given to Christ in sovereign election. who are redeemed by Christ through His blood, who are regenerated
by Him through the Spirit. They are restored to God’s covenant, are made to be once more His covenant friend-servants. In hope these covenant friend-servants look for Christ to return in His Parousia with the reward of grace, according to which they shall inherit with Christ all the blessings of God’s covenant in the new creation.
All the rest, who have been reprobated by the Father, will develop in the way of their sin to destruction. They deny the lordship of Christ. They deny the efficacy of the cross and the resurrection, as well as the lordship of Christ. They live and act as though Christ shall never return; and when He shall return, they shall be caught with surprise, and shall be cut asunder and their portion shall be with the hypocrites, where is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
This is really the significance of the parable.
Everyone is pictured in the roll of steward. God in Christ is Lord over every man. God is the Lord because He is Creator and Sovereign. Christ is the Lord as the reward of merit, and appointed to rule over all. No man has the right to ignore His lordship.
The steward never becomes lord. According to his fallen nature he assumes that prerogative. Nevertheless, man, as he comes from the loins of Adam, is never more than a servant. He must acknowledge that God is the Lord, and that Christ is His vice- Gerand by God’s appointment. In one word, everyone is required to serve God and to give account to Christ for all that God in Christ has entrusted to him.
Now the point in the parable is that apparently the Lord delays His coming, and over against this the steward reacts. He reacts either as a good steward, or, he reacts as an evil steward. Thus the Lord illustrates what the attitude of every man will be with respect to Christ’s parousia.
If he is a good steward, he will be faithful and prudent. He will be conducting his Lord’s business properly; caring for his Lord’s house hold, providing faithfully meat for his Lord’s servants. Whether the Lord tarries or should come suddenly, it makes no difference to him, – always he is ready, and living in anticipation of his Lord’s return.
On the other hand, if the steward is wicked, he will be conducting himself in the manner and according to the attitude described in the parable. He will say in his heart: My Lord delays His coming. He will begin to smite his fellow servants; assuming his Lord’s lordship. He will be eating and drinking with the drunken. And all this he will do until he is caught with surprise by the suddenness of his Lord’s return.
3. The Blessedness of Assuming the Proper Attitude.
Of course, if the steward conducts himself evilly, – he must experience the Lord’s wrath.
Such a steward is said by the Lord to be evil in his heart. And that means he is thoroughly corrupt. In his heart are evil thoughts, and from those evil thoughts he produces evil deeds. His thought is: My Lord delays his coming. Therefore, I will give vent to my evil lusts, and put out of my mind entirely my lord’s coming. I will use my Lord’s substance to satisfy my evil lusts. Consequently, he neglects his calling to feed the household as he was required. He beats his fellow servants instead of feeding them. And he uses his Lord’s substance to eat and drink with the drunken. Indeed, this evil servant shall be caught with surprise. Just as the inhabitants of the earth in Noah’s time, and as the citizens of Sodom, who had filled their measure of iniquity. When the Lord of that servant comes in an hour when he is not looking for Him, being unconverted and hypocritical, he does not live in the hope of Christ’s return.
His lot shall be with those who shall suffer the torments of hell. He shall be cut in sunder. He shall be appointed his portion with the hypocrites. His lot shall be with those who weep and gnash their teeth eternally in outer darkness.
But blessed are those servants who are faithful to the end!
These shall not be found idly waiting their Lord’s coming. Nor will they say in their hearts: My Lord delays His coming; therefore I will just sit and wait for Him. Rather, they who are faithful and who will not be found wanting, will be diligently performing their business. They will be fulfilling their vocation in life in obedience to Him, doing with diligence the labors of those vocations God in His providence assigned to each. The king and the president in the government of his country according to the Law of God. The minister of the gospel in the administration of the Word of God. The elder in watching over the church of Christ in the exercise of Christian discipline. The deacon in the administration of Christian mercy. The parent in the provision of his family, and in the instruction of his children in the fear of Jehovah. The child in loving obedience to all in authority over him. The grave digger and garbage men in their humble task to earn their daily bread, in the sweat of his face, and to have something over for the cause of Christ in the world.
These, with respect to the coming of the Lord will be watching for the signs as they will appear. And they will be preparing themselves for the coming of the Lord.
And they shall be accounted blessed by the Lord when He comes. He will pronounce them blessed before all men and angels and devils. They shall experience this blessedness to the full forever. For to be blessed is to be full and to lack no good thing. They shall be satisfied in glory.
Is that your expectation, beloved?
Then you will not be living in fear as you see the signs of Christ’s coming multiply. Rather, you will be living in hope that presently you will see the Lord face to face. And you will be living in the expectation that you will hear from His lips: Come, ye blessed, enter into the kingdom which I have prepared for you. He who has this hope in him shall not be caught by surprise; but he is being changed into Christ’s perfect image, and will be like Him when He appears.
I thank you for your good attention.
We have been asked to give a brief dissertation on the text found in Philippians 2:12, 13. No motivation was given to signify the reason for this request. We are assuming that it was more than to give an old retired minister something to do. Was it perhaps because it appears on the surface that this text seems to contradict the general tenor of the preaching in our churches that salvation is of the Lord, and that it is entirely His work from beginning to end? Or, to put it a bit differently: if salvation is entirely the Lord’s work, how can the apostle exhort: you must work out your own salvation?
The text, as it appears in the King James Version, reads as follows: “Wherefore. my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
To determine precisely what the apostle has in mind with the exhortation that we \work out our own salvation, it is important that we consider the text in the light of its immediate context.
That context is suggested in the word “wherefore” which introduces the text. That word indicates that what the apostle says in the text is a conclusion of what he had been saying in the preceding. That context harks back to verse five and following. There the apostle had exhorted the church at Philippi to “let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” The mind of Christ, as described by the apostle, was characteristically twofold: namely, to be humble and obedient. This humility and obedience the apostle demonstrates in the verses six through eleven, where he says: “Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth: and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
It is not our special concern in this writing to dwell on the doctrinal implications of the above quotation; for that would take us too far afield. Rather, we note how the apostle demonstrates in these verses what the mind of Christ, the Son of God in human nature, was. It was His mind to humble Himself and to be obedient. And that mind, the apostle says, must also be in us. In humility and obedience we must work out our own salvation.
But what does that mean that we are to work out our own salvation?
This cannot mean that salvation in any sense of the word is a work of man, or that it is dependent on us whether we are to be saved.
Everywhere Scripture teaches us not only that man is incapable of saving himself, but that salvation is from beginning to end a work of God in Christ. The apostle in his letter to the Ephesians (2:8-10) teaches, that we are saved by grace through faith, not of works, lest any man should boast. He stresses the truth that we are God’s workmanship, created unto good works which He prepared in order that we should walk in them. Man, of himself, is by nature spiritually dead, wholly impotent to raise one finger toward his salvation. He is inclined to all evil and incapable of doing any good. Moreover, man as he is by nature does not want to be saved. A salvation which consists in the eternal blessedness of God’s communion he does not desire. As we have said, all Scripture militates against the conception which allows man to contribute to his own salvation. If our salvation is all of grace and not of works (and it is): then there is no room for man to save himself. Besides, if salvation were a work of man in any sense, it must become evident that the work of Christ in the matter of our salvation is vain, and man would have something wherein to glory in himself, and not in God.
Indeed, it must be stressed that salvation is wholly the work of God in Christ. Christ is God’s anointed Servant, appointed and qualified to save us. Eternally He was set apart for this great work. For this work He came as the Son of God into the flesh. As God’s Servant He accomplishes all of God’s good pleasure. His salvation is also a finished work. It is not so that He merely makes salvation possible for us, and that now it is up to us whether we will be saved. He is Jesus, Who saves His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). In His body and soul on the tree of the cross He pays the penalty of our guilt and merits for us righteousness and life. That this was accomplished by Him, God attested to in His glorious resurrection and ascension. God not only gave Him a name above every name and made Him Lord over all, but He gave to Him the Spirit without measure to apply that salvation to our hearts, and to bring us at last into the glories of eternal salvation in the day of His coming.
It must become evident therefore that our salvation is a finished work, to which nothing must be or can be added by us. Even the realization of our salvation in our lives is His work. By His Spirit the exalted Christ enters our hearts, renewing them through the power of regeneration, justifying and sanctifying us, implanting in our hearts a true and living faith. By His Word and Spirit He calls us into salvation efficaciously in such a way that we respond.
However, and this is evidently what the apostle has in mind, we are saved as rational, moral creatures. In the matter of our salvation God in Christ treats us as such. It is not so that when God saves us He puts us to sleep as it were in a Pullman sleeper, and we ride unconsciously to eternal glory. Rather, He renews and bends our will into conformity with His will. He moves our feet in the way of His precepts, and we walk consciously in that way. He inclines our hearts to love Him and seek Him, and we love and seek Him with all our hearts. He raises up our hands in praise, and we adore Him. He prepares our good works and gives them to us, and we walk in them. Consciously He realizes His salvation in us and we work it out.
Let no one think he is saved who does not live a life which is in conformity with His salvation.
In the way of sanctification He saves us, and in no other way. It is the way of holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. It is the way of continual repentance and conversion. It is the way of separation from evil and corruption of the world. It is the way of conscious and continual obedience. It is the way of humility and contrition. It is a life of gratitude, manifested in the desire to be pleasing unto Him.
It is imperative that we walk in that way. That is why the Lord teaches us that no man can serve two masters. No one can enter the kingdom of heaven while he is seeking the things which are below.
Indeed, we must work out our salvation to the very end. That is the significance of the word the apostle uses here. It is a work which is not completed until the end is reached.
But the manner will be with fear and trembling. With fear, not because somehow he is not sure that he will not be ultimately saved. But because he knows how often his self-honor enters into his work. With trembling, because he considers that of himself he is weak, and he knows how strong the power of evil is that besets him.
Notice, too, how the apostle admonishes us to work out our own salvation, not that of the brother or sister next to us. It is strictly your and my salvation which must be worked out. Though we may and do desire the salvation of the neighbor. for this belongs to the love of the neighbor. But you and I cannot perform for him. Each is responsible for his own. +That is what the apostle means when he exhorts us to work out our own salvation. For this the apostle also gives encouragement in the text. “My beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, -work out your own salvation…”
The church at Philippi had always obeyed. Not only was this true when the apostle labored among them, but this was true also now when he was absent from them. When the apostle was present with them they had manifested the true Christian attitude. When he preached to them, they listened. When he had exhorted, they took it to heart. When he had asked for their benevolence, they gave liberally. And this was, of course, as it should be. For certainly had the apostle exhorted and they had not listened, they would have been disobedient indeed. If he had preached the sincere Word of truth, and they had trampled upon it and rejected it, it would have been a grave offence. If he had asked for an offering and they had coldly turned him down, they would have been disobedient to their calling to show true brotherly love. In all those things, the members of this church had shown that they were not mere eye-servants. The fruits of the grace of salvation were clearly in evidence, and he tells them so. And now, when he was absent from the church, he was informed that they were still obedient to the gospel. They revealed much more of their faithfulness than when he was present with them. It showed that they responded to their calling, not because of the apostle, but because they understood their heavenly calling. And this compliment is intended by the apostle to serve as encouragement to them to continue. They must continue the good work of working out what God in His grace had worked in them.
Would the apostle say the same of us? That is the question each one must answer for himself. Let each one answer to the question: Is the mind of Christ operative in us? That mind of Christ so operated in Him that He worked out our salvation for us and in us in the way of humility and obedience to the will of God. Does that mind of Christ so operate in us that we in humility and obedience work out that salvation in our lives? That is the question we must answer. Has the Word of the gospel of our salvation humbled us into the dust, so that we confess that all our salvation is of Him alone and of pure grace, from beginning to end? Has it wrought in us the true sense of contrition and obedience? Has it created in our hearts true gratitude, so that all our life is bound up in the fervent desire to walk in all good works that are pleasing to God? If the answer is affirmative, as it should be, then we may conclude that also we are working out the salvation which God in Christ has wrought for us and in us.
Then it must also become evident to us that our work is nothing more than the work of god in us, and through us. That is also how the apostle concludes the text. He gives us the divine motivating reason for working out our own salvation. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”
Indeed, not only is the matter of our salvation His work from A to Z; but also, the working out of that salvation is His work in and through us. No man may boast. All self-righteous Phariseeism is denied. Let no one say when he works out his salvation that he in any way contributed to his salvation.
It is God Who energizes, works in us both the willing and the doing of His good pleasure. Not as in stocks and blocks, not below our consciousness; but in conscious, willing, and obedient creatures, who so respond to His work of grace that we live lives that are consecrated to His glory and praise.
And when His work and our work is finished, then we shall appear before Him as the product of His sovereign and elective grace. Thus, God shall forever behold us as well-pleasing to Him, and He shall forever be magnified.
We are pleased to be present with you on this 31st annual Convention, and to have a part in the program which has been arranged. We are also pleased with the general theme of this Convention, which is: Disciples of Christ. It struck me that such a theme would be chosen in a day when there seems to be considerable confusion as to precisely what constitutes a disciple of Christ; when young people go from the one extreme of seeking independence, and appearing unwilling to follow after anybody, to the other extreme of being “Jesus people.” Indeed, we live in a day when it becomes increasingly difficult to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. In the light of this, we say again, that we are pleased to help in the development of this theme.
We also suppose that the first speaker who addressed you on the theme: The Mark of the Disciple, also defined for you the significance of the term “Disciple.” Knowing the thoroughness with which the first speaker usually treats his subject matter, we believe he has given you the Scriptural idea of a disciple. Consequently we will not take the time to define this part of our subject except to point out how the text given to us uses the term. We were asked simply to speak on the: “Costliness of Being a Disciple.” And the suggested text given to me is: Matthew 16:24, which reads as follows: “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
There are two things in the context that ought to be pointed out, and which have bearing on the text proper.
The first one has to do with the versus 13ff. where Jesus is said to be in Caesarea Philippi, and where He asks His disciples concerning His identity. He first asks them: Who do men say that I the Son of man am? To this question the disciples offer various answers: “Some say thou art John the Baptist, some Elias, and other Jeremias, or one of the prophets.” He then asks the disciples: “But who say ye that I am?” Simon Peter, answering for the disciple group, replies: “Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus, after first pronouncing a blessing upon Peter for having made this confession, then informs him that the answer could not have come from him, but through the revelation of His Father in heaven. And He marks this confession as constituting the very basis upon which God will build his church, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail.
The second matter of which the context speaks is the important information which Jesus gave His disciples concerning His suffering and death in Jerusalem, and Peter’s reaction to it. The Lord was very conscious at this time of the suffering which was about to be imposed upon Him by the leaders of the Jews, and of His death and resurrection which would follow, Peter began to rebuke Him, saying: “Be it far from thee Lord: this shall not be unto thee.” Jesus interprets this rebuke as being the very words of Satan, and at the same time an indication of the wrong understanding the disciples had of the reason for following Him. This latter because the occasion for His pronouncement of the words of our text. As the word “then” indicates, it was the proper time for Jesus to instruct His disciples in the true meaning of discipleship, and the requirements true discipleship demands.
With these remarks in mind, we would like to speak to you for a little while on the subject: FOLLOWING AFTER JESUS. Concerning this subject, there are three questions we would like to raise and answer. What does it mean? What does it require? And, Unto what does it lead?
I. What does it mean?
To come after Jesus means to be His disciple. But what is involved in being a disciple of Jesus? In the light of the context this is an important question. We should not forget that though the disciples through Peter had made a wonderful confession: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” they nevertheless did not understand the full implications of that confession. To them the term “Christ” was synonymous with glory, honor, power, the ascent to the mighty throne of David, a way of conquest and victory. And discipleship was for them considered from the viewpoint of the question: Who shall be the greatest? When Jesus therefore informed them that He was going to suffer and die, this violently clashed with the conception they had of Him. And when he intimated that discipleship consisted not in merely becoming great, but it entailed bearing a cross after Him; this, too, violently militated against their conception of the disciple.
True discipleship consists, first of all, in hearing and receiving His Word. That is to say, His entire Word, not merely that part of it which may appear acceptable to us. It is the Word of Him Who is the truth. And that Word becomes an awful Word of Jesus. It is the Word that condemns all self-righteousness of men. It closes the kingdom of heaven against all whose righteousness does not exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. It condemns the world of unrighteousness, and insists that we have no righteousness of ourselves, that we are corrupt and inclined to all evil as we are by nature, that we are guilty, undone, and worthy of death and damnation. It leaves no hope for the natural man, no ground on which he can merit before God. And at the same time that Word of Jesus reaches down to us in our hopelessness only to declare to us a righteousness of God. A righteousness which is perfect because it is founded on the death and resurrection of Jesus our Lord, and that can be ours only as an eternal gift of free grace. It is the Word concerning a righteousness which is freely imputed to us, that is wrought in us through the Spirit of Christ, that justifies us freely and sanctifies us wholly, and that makes us new creatures in an old world, light in the midst of darkness, citizens of heaven while we are in the midst of worldly Babylon. O, that Word contains still more. It demands of us that we fight the fight of faith unto the end. That we be holy as God is holy in all our walk of life. That we forsake the world and its lusts, and be of God’s party in every phase of life.
Indeed, to be a disciple of Jesus, you must hear and receive His Word. And it is not enough that you merely hear it. O, to be sure, it is necessary that we ever come under the hearing of that Word. But there is much more. That Word must be hidden in our hearts. The hearer must also receive what he hears. It must be an abiding factor in his innermost spiritual being. That Word must be the controlling principle in one’s whole life, shall he be a disciple of Jesus. He cannot walk without it. It must guide him wherever he goes. It must shed light on his pathway. It must draw and lead him to the light. A true disciple listens continually to that Word of Christ, and always he asks what the will and the word of Christ is. Always he is hearing, receiving, and doing that Word. So, and so only, can one come after Jesus.
At this point we wish to ask you young people, considering all that is implied in being a disciple of Jesus: Would you be a disciple of Jesus? You feel the awful import of this question, don’t you?
Today it is becoming popular among youth of our time to be “Jesus’ people.” As we said in our opening remarks, the crazy bent of youth is to swing from one extreme sweep of the pendulum to the very opposite extreme. One day, not long ago, the young would recognize no one whom they would follow, casting off from them all authority, and living riotously as revolutionaries. Today, the sweep of the pendulum moves them in the apparently pious direction – to follow after Jesus. Not, you understand, the Jesus of the Scriptures, Who is the son of God come into the flesh, the Jesus Who took upon Him the guilt of the sins of His people, and bore that guilt unto the tree of the cross, in order to remove it from before the face of God. Of that Jesus they do not know, no do they want Him to be their leader. Not the Jesus Who speaks to us the Word of God which discloses our depravity, and the need of a righteousness which God has prepared, which righteousness only will allow us to enter through the gates of His heavenly kingdom – but a Jesus of their imagination – a Jesus who is a super star.
I am not speaking today to young people who would have a Jesus that will allow them to rock and roll; nor is my question directed to those who would claim to follow such a Jesus. But I ask you, Protestant Reformed youth, who have become acquainted with the Word of God, and have met therein the Jesus of the Scriptures: Would you be His disciple? If your answer is: Yes; then you have heard and received His Word, and hid it in your hearts. That Word will be the principle whereby your whole life is regulated and controlled. This is a very important question, and very personal, which you must answer. When you are one of Jesus’ disciples, you will to come after Him!
But you know, don’t you, that no man wills or can will to come after Him, as he is by nature. All men by nature are carnal. They love darkness rather than light. They love and seek the world, rather that the kingdom of heaven. They love their own word, and would hear the word of man, rather than to have anything to do with the Word of God and of Christ. The natural man wills just the opposite of following after Jesus. O, he may have an imaginary Jesus, who he has concocted in his own mind, who he will follow – but not the Jesus of the Scriptures.
You and I must understand that the will to come after Jesus is the fruit of mere and sovereign grace. To follow and to will to come after Jesus, is the result of His efficacious call. He calls you and you come after Him. He speaks His almighty Word, and you obey it. He irresistibly says: Follow Me! and His disciples say spontaneously: I come! Strange as it may seem, he who wills to come after Jesus is already after Him. It is the choice of his heart. He who hears and receives His Word, will be Jesus’ disciple.
Now I was asked to speak to you today especially on: The Costliness of Discipleship. And so now I come to the heart of this subject when I call your attention to:
II. What does it require?
Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
You will notice that the Lord specifies especially three requirements: self-denial, cross bearing, and following Him. Allow me briefly to delineate each of these requirements.
The first, and perhaps the most humiliating requisite of true discipleship is self-denial. But what does that mean?
Literally self-denial means: to disown, to renounce self. It means in the most absolute sense that we must forget about ourselves, give up our own interests. Self-denial is the very opposite of maintaining one’s self. It is that act whereby one becomes nothing in his own eyes. It is the will not too insist on one’s name and position, one’s honor and glory, one’s means and possessions, yea, even one’s own life.
You must understand that the Lord does not say that you must deny something to yourself, if you would be His disciple. If the Lord had said that, it might be comparatively easy to be His disciples. That kind of self-denial, one finds in the world, and often also in the church. Men will deny themselves much for many reasons when it involves themselves. They will deny themselves food and drink which otherwise they crave, it their health is at stake. They will deny themselves leisure and rest, if the object of their ambition is involved. Paradoxical as it may seem, men will deny themselves the world and the things of the world. Remarkably Jesus says something much different than this. Never did He say: deny yourself something, then you will be my disciples. No – His requirement is an absolute one. He says: deny yourself!
That means, everything you have and are. It implies that before God and His Christ you do not insist on your own righteousness, and that you confess that you are utterly lost in yourself. It means that you experience and confess that you find all your righteousness, yea, all you need for your salvation in Christ alone. It implies that before men you seek not the praise of men, but are always ready to suffer reproach and even death if necessary for Christ’s sake.
Indeed, this self-denial is quite contrary to the spirit of the world. The world wants men that have ambition to make for themselves a name, who have the energy to gain riches and position in life. And it offers riches, fame, and pleasures to all who will follow her. Christ, on the other hand, demands the very opposite. He offers you no inducement to self-ambitions, but condemns them. He requires complete abandoning of self, shall we be His disciples.
The second requirement necessary for true discipleship is that we take up our cross.
The cross of which Jesus here speaks is said by some to refer to what Scripture calls the “old man of sin,” the corrupt nature the disciple retains after his regeneration and conversion; the old nature which the apostle Paul admonishes should be mortified. Accordingly, when the old nature overpowers one so that he falls into sin, he is supposed to have a cross with which he has to contend. For example, a Christian may be quick-tempered and fly off the handle, as they say. Quite often he will even excuse himself when he does this with the remark: “I’m sorry, but you will please excuse me for what I said, for my hot temper got the best of me. You see, that’s the cross I have to bear. In my opinion that is not a cross, but an evil nature that often rules over us, and we would do well to get rid of it.
Neither is the cross the affliction and sufferings one often bears in this life. Many speak of sickness and pain as so many crosses we have to bear. But hardly can the suffering in the body and mind in the world be an emblem of the cross of which Jesus speaks.
Rather, the cross is always centrally the cross of Christ. Not, you understand, when that cross is the emblem and means of atonement; for then it stands uniquely alone. In this sense there is only one cross, and that is the cross which Christ alone bore, and upon which He alone suffered and died. But Jesus meant that His cross which is the ultimate expression of the hatred of the world against God and His Anointed must also be ours. You see, His cross and our cross are closely related. The world hated Him because He was of God and they are of the world. And the servant is not greater than his Lord. If they hated Him they also hate them that will come after Him. For His is in them, and becomes manifest through them. His cross reflects in the crosses they bear who will follow Jesus. And when you bear that cross, you take it up. You must assume the burden of it. One who takes up a burden assumes willingly to carry it. So also one who takes up the cross, expresses thereby the willingness to not only bear it, but also to suffer its reproach. Cross-bearing is inevitable for the true disciple of Jesus. Jesus’ disciples do not come after Him to gain a crown in this world, but he who wills to be His disciple must will to deny himself and bear the reproach of Christ in this world.
The third requisite of true discipleship Jesus imposes upon us is: “And follow Me.”
That means, of course, that Jesus must lead. Never may the opposite be true. Indeed there are many in our day who would have the opposite be true. They would have you do something for Jesus. And when you follow this conception through you find that they make Jesus to follow them. No! Jesus must lead. He must command. He must speak first. He must tell us first of His cross. This is precisely what Peter, according to the context, failed to understand. He did not want Jesus to lead, to go before His cross: but Peter would bear his cross before Jesus. In reality Jesus always leads. He was the obedient Servant to the Father. He entered the evil world in which we live, assuming our nature in which He could suffer and die. Here He was mocked and despised. Here He suffered and died. “Yes, here He went on before us bearing His cross.
And we must follow Him. O, this cannot surely means that we must or can go through what He did. That would be utterly impossible. As we pointed out before, there is an aspect of His cross which we cannot, nor need to bear. But follow Him we must nevertheless. Listening to His Word of the cross, and never asserting our own notions, and never saying: Lord, this shall never be unto Thee. But following willingly, submissively, silently; we bear His reproach, renouncing our own judgment to the Word of the Lord, and denying ourselves completely. That is bearing the cross and following Jesus.
III. Unto what does it lead?
When Jesus leads, and we follow Him, what will we experience as far as this world is concerned? Well, young people, your end will be His end. Being by His grace His disciples, you will experience shame, reproach, suffering, and ultimately death. For you see Jesus not only taught us that we shall be His disciples we must be partakers of His anointing, but also His suffering. Would you follow Jesus, you can expect nothing more in this world. He warns you that as they persecuted Him so they will also persecute you. The world and the power of darkness will persecute you in every sphere of life, if you will hear and obey the Lord; while you take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow Him.
Are you prepared for that? Make no mistake about it, this will surely happen to you. And we would warn you that the Scriptures predict that in the last days this suffering will become more intense. Jesus forewarned us that when Antichrist will come the elect of God will experience suffering so severe that if God had not shortened the days the very elect of God would not be able to endure. These days, we believe, are fast coming upon us. Overnight the peace and quiet we now enjoy, may be changed. Now it is quite easy to be a Christian. We may still go to church, and worship as we please. We may still enjoy our society life, where unmolested we may study God’s Word. No one appears to bother us. But it will not continue thus. The day is not far away when the power of darkness will break forth in all its fury, against the church, and against the people of God. In fact, even now, if we would let our light shine more than we do, we would experience more opposition that we do. In the light of this, would you still be Jesus’ disciple? This is what it is going to cost you, if you would remain true to Him.
Yet, let not this discourage you! You have every reason to rejoice and to be exceeding glad. For your reward shall be great! If this were not so, you would have reason to be the most miserable of all creatures. But remember, Jesus leads! He went on before you. He suffered and died, but He also arose from the dead. And He ascended to highest glory. And He has promised to give unto His faithful disciples His glory. In the way of faithfulness, they shall also attain unto it. This is His Word, “If ye shall deny Me before men, I will also deny you before My Father which is in heaven.” If we by His grace deny ourselves, and follow Him, bearing our cross, He will lead you and me unto everlasting glory. May He continue to give unto us that grace whereby we may continue to fight the good fight of faith, even unto the end, that no one take our crown.
*Prepared from notes used at the convention.
Originally Published in:
Vol. 31 No. 6 October 1971
- The Confusion of Tongues (Genesis 11:1-9)
It would seem that when we compare what is recorded in these verses, especially verse 2, with what we read in Genesis 10: 8 -10, that we must conclude that the history recorded in Chapter 11 is antecedent to that recorded in Chapter 10. If this conclusion is correct, we may conceive of the historical events in this order: Mankind, under the leadership of Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord, moved eastward till they came to the plain of Shinar. They settled there, and attempted to establish a kingdom of universal proportions with its center in the tower and city they planned to build. God, however, frustrates their plan and defeats their purpose by causing the nations to be divided through the confusion of tongues.
What we have in the verses 1-4 is a concerted attempt of the people of the earth to remain one, contrary to the commandment of God to ‘‘be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 9:1,7,19). Moreover, in defiance of this commandment mankind also sought to have dominion over the earth, and to realize that dominion through consolidation. Such a kingdom was all the more conceivable because all the earth was of one language, and of one speech.
We should not forget here that man was originally created to have dominion over the earth. And when man sinned, he did not change essentially. He did not become another creature, but he remained what he essentially was, a man created to have dominion. However, since the fall he would attempt to obtain this dominion under the power of sin. This power was not completely destroyed in the flood, but came out of the ark, and became manifest in the generations of Noah (Genesis 9).
What we have, therefore, in the plain of Shinar is this attempt to establish a world kingdom, no doubt under the leadership of one man, Nimrod the mighty hunter. It was he who undoubtedly was the first man to conceive of the possibility of a union of power and authority different than that which formerly was tribal and patriarchal. It was he who conceived of the plan to break the bonds of family and tribal ties to found a kingdom of universal dimensions. By his feats of daring in hunting the wild beasts that threatened the lives and well-being of his contemporaries, and his humanitarian acts he had gained prestige and fame which aided him in molding the minds of the humanity surrounding him and which made it easy for him to persuade them to follow his plan. Thus persuaded, they with one accord exclaim, “Go to, let us make brick … let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”
The purpose of this construction was not, as some explain, to have a safe retreat in case another flood should threaten. The very fact that God had promised never again to destroy the earth with a flood should disprove this theory. Rather the purpose, as expressed in verse 4, was twofold: to make themselves a name, and to prevent their being scattered over the face of the earth.
We must not forget here that that only which can unify and keep together, namely, the true knowledge, righteousness and holiness, in one word, the image of God in man, was lost through sin. Yet sinful and corrupt man would nevertheless bring about a unity in which sin may have full sway, and God may be entirely ruled out.
The central purpose, therefore, of the tower was, in the first place, to solidify and consolidate into a great commonwealth. All the peoples of the earth must be one. This they contrived to do in order to magnify their name and to have their honor and glory extolled. In the second place, they purposed in their plan to make the tower to reach unto heaven to reflect their open defiance against God. If it were possible, they purposed to dethrone God, to erase the name of God from the earth, and to realize a kingdom that would be anti-God, and anti-Christ.
But according to verses 5-9, God frustrated their plan and spoiled their purpose through the confusion of tongues.
In this connection, there are especially three thoughts that bear special emphasis. The first of these is the significance of the name Babel. The name comes from a word the root of which means to confuse. Evidently it was given to the tower after the work of building was halted. It serves as a memorial of the judgment of God, not, of course, in the intention of the builders, but in God’s intention, Who destroys their unity with confusion. Secondly, it should be noted that this confusion was more than the creation of different languages. In reality here the Lord separates the peoples of the earth into many nations, some of which still remain to this day. The difference between the nations is not merely one of language, but also of natures and colors. By this confusion, God made it impossible for whites and blacks, for example, to dwell under one roof. Though science, no doubt, would disagree with us, we believe there is something in the pigment of the skin, an odor which perhaps is pleasing to those who are of like skin, but repulsive to others of different skin. Moreover, with this confusion God also placed each in his own habitat. Hence the Eskimo cannot live at the equator, nor can the white man live without great discomfort in the Sahara Desert. And in the third place, and most of all, it should be emphasized that the purpose of God in the confusion was to halt the progress of the kingdom of Antichrist, until the cause of Christ should first be realized. The prime purpose of all history is the cause of Christ in which He gathers His elect from all nations. No other causes may interfere or come to a head until this cause of Christ is first realized.
It should be pointed out at this juncture that since the confusion at Babel there have been and still are attempts made to overcome this confusion. There is always a spiritual counterpart of the tower of Babel in the world. The spirit that was behind the building and that moved the builders in the construction of that first tower is still with us. The world does not want that confusion. It is well known that the world for some time has endeavored to establish a universal language. And many and varied are the attempts to unite the nations. The late Wendell Willkie’s One World is an idea not foreign to the mind and will of sinful man. We may observe this attempt at unity in the U.N.O. We are convinced that the World Council of Churches is another attempt at world union with a religious color. The principle back of the Peace Corps initiated by the President of the United States is another very apparent attempt at world unity. All the integration movements of our time are evidently the same endeavor.
However, not before the marvel of Pentecost has been fully realized can this worldly endeavor to establish world unity be accomplished. On the day of Pentecost God caused the gospel to be preached in many tongues. Each heard the wonderful works of God in his own tongue. By the Spirit of Pentecost God causes all the nations in principle to be united. He gives them one language — heavenly. He gives them one nature — heavenly. He gives them a new life — heavenly. So that the redeemed church can boast of one God, one Spirit, one faith, etc. And this unifying work of the Spirit of Christ must yet be perfected. Only then can the prophecy of Revelation 13 be fulfilled. Then the head with the deadly wound shall be healed. That wound was inflicted, we believe, at Babel. That it is healed means that the time is coming when the confusion of nations will cease. At that time, the Antichrist will affect his own unity.
- The Covenant Line from Shem to Abraham. (Genesis 11:10-26)
The canonical significance of the Book of Genesis is the setting forth of the beginning and the first stage of the realization of God’s purpose to glorify Himself in His covenant people antithetically. This significance should never be lost out of sight as you study this first book of the Bible. The appearance of the genealogy of Shem’s generations in this context is evidently to show forth this purpose.
We have not the time nor the space to compare this genealogy with that recorded in Genesis 10:22 – 30, I Chronicles I, and those recorded in the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke. Such a comparison would produce no doubt some very interesting observations.
One of these observations is in connection with verse 16 as compared with Chapter 10:25 and I Chronicles 1:19. From the latter passages we learn that Peleg lived in the days when “the earth was divided.” The question was once asked me: Where were the children of God at the time of the confusion of tongues? My answer was that they were evidently there, and Peleg was one of them. If my mathematics is correct, Peleg was born 100 years after the flood, and all his forebears, including Shem, Arphaxad, Salah, Eber, and perhaps even Noah were living at the time of the division of nations.
We may also observe that the name Peleg means “division.” This would seem to indicate that Peleg was born at the time of the confusion and that his name was given to him by his father Eber as a memorial of God’s judgment of the wicked in those days. Indicating also that by faith Eber saw in the division of the nations also the separation of the covenant line that must ultimately bring forth the Seed of the Promise.
One more observation could be made here, namely, that the life span of man is considerably but gradually shortened. Shem’s age is given at 600 years, Arphaxad at 438 years, Salah at 433, Eber at 464, Peleg at 239, Reu at 239, Serug at 230, Nahor at 148, Terah at 205, and Abraham at 175 years. Since all the names of those mentioned above were progenitors of the covenant line, an interesting question it might be to discuss: Why did God cut short the life span of these fathers?
III. The Family of Terah.
Terah lived in Ur of Chaldees. The capital city of Chaldea was Babylon, earlier Babel. So, we must conclude that Terah, four generations after Peleg, had not moved far from the original site when God had divided the nations and purposed that they should scatter over the face of the earth.
Joshua tells us in Joshua 24:2 that the house of Terah served other gods. The context of this latter passage shows us that Joshua had gathered all Israel to Shechem where he exhorted the people to put away the gods which their fathers served on the other side of the flood. Reference is undoubtedly to the fact that Terah served idols. At this same place in Shechem Jacob later buried the strange gods in his household under the oak. Also, these strange gods were taken from the house of Laban, where Jacob had sojourned in his flight from Esau (Genesis 35:2-4).
It is because of these facts, namely, that strange gods continued in the family of Terah, that it is taught by some that when God called Abram from his father’s house to go to the land that He would show him, it was to preserve the true religion. This thought is disproved, it seems to me, by the fact that the true religion was not preserved in Abram alone. Contemporary with Abram were men like Melchizedek and Job, both of whom were God-fearing men. Rather, the reason why God called Abram apart was to initiate another phase in the development of His covenant. Abram must go to the land God would show him, in order there to live the life of an elect stranger in the midst of the world. There, walking thetically, he would evoke the antithesis, the bitter opposition of the world.
Terah, it appears from the text, took his family, with the exception of Haran who died in Ur of the Chaldees, and moved to the province of Mesopotamia, particularly to the place called Haran. Here Terah died, and from here God called Abram to go to the land of Canaan (Gen. 12:1). We know from subsequent Scriptures that part of Terah’s family, i.e., the household of Nahor, remained in Haran (Gen. 24:4, 10).
Haran, it appears before he died, brought forth three children: Milcah, Iscah, and Lot. Nahor, Terah’s son, married Milcah the daughter of Haran. The genealogy that followed out of this marriage is mentioned in Gen. 22:20 – 24. Abram married Sarai. She, according to Gen. 20:12, was Abram’s half-sister, indicating that Terah had more than one wife. That she is called Terah’s daughter in law in vs. 31. is due no doubt to the fact that she was married to Abram, while the truth was also that she was his daughter by another wife than the one who gave birth to Abram.
Some suggested questions for discussion:
- What purpose did the builders of the tower of Babel have in mind with the tower?
- How did God by the confusion of tongues frustrate that purpose?
- Of what did the confusion of tongues consist?
- Is the tower of Babel an isolated attempt on the part of man to attempt a unity without God?
- Will the evil purpose of the tower builders eventually be realized? If so, how?
- Why is the genealogy of Shem recorded in this context?
- Were there sincere people of God living at the time of the building of the tower of Babel? If so, who were they?
- Is there any significance in the fact that Scripture records no protest of the God-fearing against the idea of the tower?
- Does verse 31 suggest that Terah was also of a mind to go to the land of Canaan?
- How are we to judge of Terah’s family in the light of other Scriptures?
The Staff of Beacon Lights has requested us to write a brief article revealing the present status of missions in the Protestant Reformed Churches. With this evident interest on the part of our young people in the matter of missions we are truly pleased. We are quite sure it reflects the interest which most of our people have regarding this subject.
We simply refuse to concede to the charge which has always been made, and again quite recently, that the Protestant Reformed Churches have little or no interest in missions. In The Banner of January 6, 1961, the Rev. H. Baker reiterates this false charge when he writes: “Besides, the Protestant Reformed Church, as it was constituted prior to 1954, had little interest in missions.” Better it had been if he, and all who have made similar charges against us, had said: “The Protestant Reformed Churches, as they were constituted prior to 1954 and now much more since that time, have had very small facilities and resources wherewith to fulfill their mission mandate.”
It is simply not true that our churches never had mission zeal and revealed little or no interest in the cause of missions. The records of our synods will show that we have inquired even of the secretary of missions in the Christian Reformed Church for information as to the where-with-all to conduct even foreign missions. The records will show that even before we had synods our churches were bent on performing mission endeavor. The records will show that since we have had synods we have always had a mission board which has worked diligently with the means at our disposal and conform to the constitution of missions adopted by our churches which very beautifully expresses in its preamble the principle of missions which has hitherto controlled our interest and endeavor. The records will show that, when we were able, we called missionaries and sent them into the field, and that at present we have a missionary who is on the field assigned to him. The records will show that when a new field opened up, or a new method was proposed, our people responded with keen interest, with prayers and gifts, to support the work. We deny the charge that the Protestant Reformed Churches have no interest in missions.
It is true that we have never been able to do much in the field of missions. It is also true that we could do much more than we are doing if we had the facilities. And perhaps we could say that we should be doing much more than we are doing even with our present facilities. Every church experiences times of lethargy, despondency, evidences of lack of interest due to various causes. No church can rest on the laurels of her achievements and be satisfied that she has done enough. Our churches are no exception to this.
When we consider the Lord’s command to His church to evangelize all the world, it is always proper that the church should inquire whether or not she is obedient to this command. If the quest of our young people who are inquiring as to the status of missions in our churches has in it the purpose to determine whether we are obedient to Christ’s command, they are asking a very proper question, and one that may have salutary effects.
What is the present status of missions in our churches?
To answer this question we could begin by reporting an inventory of our present facilities and reviewing our present activities. We have a mission board, consisting of five ministers and four laymen, men who have been chosen by synod and mandated to promote the mission endeavor of our churches conform to the constitution also prescribed by synod for the conduct of that endeavor. This board will have met five times since the last synod before this article appears in print, and will probably meet two or three times more before the next synod. Most of the time and effort of this committee has been spent in an honest effort to determine a field of labor for our missionary, the taking on of more radio facilities for the propagation of the Gospel peculiar to our churches, and for the distribution of suitable literature of an informative and instructive nature.
We also have at present one missionary who is engaged in what is called church extension and reformation work. The Rev. George C. Lubbers has served faithfully and well in this capacity for the last five years. As fruit of the work accomplished most by him, three churches have been brought into our denominational fold. At present our missionary is working a new field among people of German Reformed background in Tripp-Menno, South Dakota. It is also through his direction that much literature is being distributed throughout various areas in our country.
It is also through the facilities and cooperation of the Radio Committee of our First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids that the mission committee is conducting rather extensive radio broadcasting. Besides the six radio stations which carry our messages throughout our own land, we also broadcast from a station in the Netherlands West Indies, and over the facilities of a much larger station in Europe. The cost of these endeavors, which is not a little, is pro-rated to each of our families by synod. That about sums up the present endeavor of our churches in missions.
There are several factors that should not be lost sight of when we inquire as to the present status of missions in our churches. First of all, we must recognize the fact that our numbers and therefore also our financial capabilities have been greatly decimated since the split in our churches in 1954. In close connection with this, we struggle with the obvious handicap of a shortage of ministers. It is the candid judgment of this writer that it would be folly to organize through mission endeavor more churches, giving them the opportunity to call our ministers, when we do not have enough men to supply the churches we already have. We cannot, nor can anyone else expect us to do great things in the field of missions unless we are given the men and the facilities to do them.
Here is a wonderful opportunity for me to impress upon you young people and especially upon our young men the urgent need of laborers in Christ’s vineyard. God has given us a well established seminary where you may be trained for the Gospel ministry. May we urge you to consider prayerfully this urgent need if haply the Lord may lay it upon your heart to seek this high and holy office in His church. With this provision we may look forward to the future with greater interest and greater activity in the promotion of missions at home and abroad.
With the appearance of this issue of Beacon Lights we will be in the year of our Lord 1957 and in the eleventh month of that year. And the last Thursday of this month has been designated Thanksgiving Day. With this in mind the editorial staff has asked me to pen a few thoughts about thanksgiving, which we gladly do.
Originally our national Thanksgiving Day was a home festival and not without religious character. Until well into the 18th century two church services were held on that day in which the mercies of God were recounted. And after these services a grand dinner was partaken of by separate family units. Today, the President of the United States each year delivers a Thanksgiving Proclamation. Hereby we are exhorted to attend our respective houses of worship, as it is generally said, to give thanks to “kind providence,” after which the nation gorges itself in fatness, feasting and amusements. The idea of the day has been greatly lost and the special day has deteriorated into a time of pleasure and the worship of the gods Bacchus and Mammon.
It is well then that we again pause to consider the real idea of thanksgiving.
There are several passages of Scripture which emphasize that we are to give thanks
always for all things. We read in II Cor. 4:15, “For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.” Again, in Eph. 5:20 we read, “Giving thanks always for all things unto God, and the Father in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Phil. 4:6 we read: “Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” And to quote more, we read in I Thess. 5:18, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God concerning you.”
From these passages it is clear that nothing is to be excluded from our thanksgiving. Because Thanksgiving Day was instituted with a view to the in-gathered harvest, there is a danger and that is that we concentrate our attention on material things only. This danger is more than imaginary. The President’s proclamation generally emphasizes thanks for material prosperity. Many sermons are dedicated to the proposition that we are to give thanks only for an abundant harvest. And the danger is that we also begin to distinguish between the material things in which we rejoice and the things we regard as evil. The attempt is made to make us believe that we are to give thanks only for the good, not for the bitter.
But notice the all-inclusiveness of the Scriptural mandate. It enjoins us to prostrate ourselves before God and to express gratitude for whatever He sends us, — nothing excluded. There is nothing that limits the idea of everything. Surely the meaning is not that we give thanks for everything we consider good. But the word “everything” must stand in its full force. It includes whatever we receive. It includes all our experiences in this life. Regardless whether they are pleasant or unpleasant to our flesh. To be sure, this includes all that is good: our life, our gifts, our powers, our talents; our health and strength to labor; our daily bread, clothing; our homes, our schools and churches; our prosperity, peace and plenty, yes, but life is more than these. Our Baptism Form speaks of “our life is a continual death.” There is also suffering, pain and death. There is war, poverty, and famine. There are also tears, sorrows and sadness. Thanks for everything does not exclude these things that are usually denominated evils and which we know always work for good to the children of God.
Nor is thanksgiving a matter for a special occasion. Our Thanksgiving Day comes only once a year. As we already mentioned, it was originally intended as a harvest feast day. And we might conclude that thanksgiving is also a matter for special occasions, after some special good providence, such as, the end of a war, or the end of a catastrophe such as flood, famine or pestilence. Or, as it is, at the end of a successful and plenteous harvest.
Notice, however, the Scripture says “always”! Not only for all things, for the good and the bad; but all the time. That includes our entire life and walk, every day of our life, every moment of our existence.
To give thanks always for all things presupposes that we consider all things that we received were good. It means that we point to everything and say it was from God without any merit of us. It implies that we point to the Giver of all and praise His Holy Name. That we give thanks for everything always means that we give thanks because of everything and that we rejoice because of everything always, not only when the way is bright and smooth, but also when it is dark and impassable. It means that we behold in all, always, God’s mercy, love and grace to us.
But isn’t this impossible? Isn’t this quite contrary to our natural understanding?
Indeed this is quite impossible of understanding or fulfillment for the natural man. To him this is sheer foolishness. He is like the rich man in the parable whose portion is in this life. He boasts himself in the multitude of his riches. His god is his belly. In fact he does not and cannot give thanks at all. He can and does rejoice in things, but not in the Lord.
This is possible only for those who have this grace of thanksgiving, and they do it with great difficulty.
But does this mean that the child of God, the recipient of this grace, rejoices in things that are evil? Does he then set his face like flint in the midst of pain and suffering? No, of course not! When he is in agony he groans. When the clouds of evil lower he is anxious. When he is in sorrow he weeps.
But he belongs to Christ.
So the apostle would also have us give thanks for everything always, — in the Lord. That is the only answer to how it is possible to give thanks always in everything. Because Christ is Lord of all, all things have their reason in Him. To belong to Him means He is our Lord in everlasting love. We were in Him when He died and rose again. All things therefore must work for our good.
Thus, and thus only, the true believer in Christ gives thanks always for all things. He understands that what is considered evil is in reality good. He knows that evils are chastisements of love. He believes all things must be subservient to God’s eternal purpose of love and his own salvation. Thus the believer can be and is unto the praise of God in all. Thus he can truly rejoice in all things, and in everything always give thanks.
“What,” you say, “the next convention! Why, here it is only the month of May, and you are talking about the next convention already?” Yes, that’s right. And that’s because we really have something to talk about. A certain group of young people have been talking about the next convention ever since the last one. They have not only been talking about it, but they are doing something about it also. The Host Committee, in conjunction with the Federation Board, have already made all the plans and have begun to put them into effect.
At Hudsonville, so it was decided at the last convention, the next convention will be convened. Just about half the distance between Grand Rapids, the furniture capital of the United States, and Holland, the tulip city, lies the village of Hudsonville, Michigan. Not so many years ago, if you passed through this fast-growing farm community and happened to wink your eye, you might not see the village at all, so small it was. Today, it has taken on sizable proportions and may well be in the not distant future a city to be reckoned with.
In this village, constituted mostly of the hardy Dutch, whose ancestry harks back to the pioneer days of Van Raalte, is the Protestant Reformed Church. To its pastor and his Young People’s Society has been assigned the task of planning and preparing for the next annual convocation of Protestant Reformed Young People’s Societies.
Anyone acquainted with the dynamic pastor of this church (and who isn’t?) knows what we may expect in the way of a pleasant visit. If you have never met the Rev. Vos, we assure you that it will be worth your trip to the convention just to see and meet him. But don’t forget the vivacious group of young people at his command. They have through the years of Rev. Vos’ ministry become thoroughly imbued with his energy. We haven’t forgotten the last convention that was held in Hudsonville. So, if you hate a good time, I warn you not to come to the next convention.
We may leave it up to the Host Committee or the Federation Board to announce the theme of the convention, but we can tell you now that it is a good one. Of course, the theme and its development by the various speakers appointed is the most important feature of any convention. This will be especially true this time. It is timely, instructive and practical, and will be especially prepared with our young people in mind.
There are other reasons, however, which should move all our young people to make plans now to attend. First of all, there are matters of business which command the interest and attention of all our societies and on which action must be taken. Not only the routine matters must necessarily be treated, but special proposals offered for consideration which are always presented with a view to the best interests of all our societies, or for the best possible management of our mutual affairs.
Then, too, another substantial reason for attending this convention is the wonderful opportunity for the various delegates to express themselves before a larger group than their own individual societies. Here is a greater opportunity to use and develop in the talents and gifts the Lord has given the several members who are appointed from each society as delegates. Each society should bear in mind to send representatives who can best ably express the mind of the individual group. Conventions should not be all play. There is serious labor to be performed which demands conscientious laborers who are prepared for their task.
Moreover, these conventions offer the best possible reason for all our young people getting together. There is ample opportunity, though it be only for a few days, for young people to meet young people, and that, too, of our own faith. All parents of our young people who read this article should certainly keep this in mind when they consider with their sons and daughters the matter of allowing them to come to the convention. I can say from my own experience that these conventions have been so well supervised that no parent need hesitate to send their children for fear they might get into trouble through meeting the wrong person or going to the wrong places. Those of us who have been more or less responsible for steering conventions have always kept in mind the possible dangers of young people being, so to speak, on their own, and have taken special care that they are always well supervised. Some time ago I talked to a father of a young man and woman who lives a long way from the center of our churches and who expressed the thought to me that he had been thinking seriously of sending his son and daughter to the next convention simply because he would like to have them meet our Protestant Reformed young people. Where he lived he saw the grave danger of his family running away from our churches through his children associating exclusively with those of another church. I find this commendable on the part of that father, and also encouraged him to follow through. I’ll be looking for his son and daughter at our next convention.
There is another reason why these annual gatherings of our young people are desirable. They afford us a wonderful opportunity to express our unity. Perhaps no time in the history of our churches has this spirit of unity been felt so keenly as it has since our recent trouble after certain of those who were formerly with us left us through way of schism. The last two conventions in which we met without them were especially marked by this sense of unity. At the first, which was held in Grand Rapids, we thought we noticed a little sadness because of smallness but also there we remarked that the spirit of unity was magnificent. At the second, which was held in South Holland last year, all traces of sadness were removed, and there was one grand feeling that we were a united band. To be sure, our group has become considerably smaller in numbers; but also this has its advantages. Surely no one need complain that he gets lost in the crowd. Our spirits are not dampened. In fact, it seems to me our experience of becoming smaller has given impetus to our enthusiasm, and strengthened the bond of unity among those who remained faithful with respect to our truth. This has been the experience in all our societies and also our federation meetings, not only of our young people, but of our Men’s and Ladies’ groups as well. I have attended our Ladies’ Federation meeting, and also the Men’s League on two occasions of late. And in both of them I have noticed not only that they have grown in numbers but also in enthusiasm. The same is true in our individual societies. My Men’s Society is almost three times as large as it used to be when we had twice as many families. The same for the Ladies. The interest and enthusiasm and unity is so marked that we look forward to the time of meetings. And this is as it should be. So we also look forward to convention time when as covenant youth from near and far we come together to express our unity.
This year the convention is to be held on August, 16, 17, and 18. Those who are working and have a vacation coming should reckon with these dates, and ask now for leave of absence for that time. Those living in the middle West and even in the far West cannot find a better place to spend a vacation at that time of the year than right here in Western Michigan near the cooling waters of our great Lake. I have been all through our Eastern States and I have traveled through our mid-Western and even through the Pacific Coast States, and I have seen some beautiful scenery and several different climates. But give me Michigan in the summer months, especially from August to October. You won’t find it better anywhere.
So, Young People! Begin talking it up now. Begin planning and preparing now to attend. The Host Society and the Federation Board have been working ever since the last convention to give you a most blessed and pleasant time, and they will do still more to make it the best convention we have ever had. But they cannot make it a success alone. If you are not there, we can have none. It is you, Young People, that will make it a success. All roads will end in Hudsonville, the Lord willing, on August 16, 17, 18. We’ll be looking for you!
4. A TRUSTWORTHY JUDGMENT RE MARRIAGE AND CELIBACY
(I Cor. 7:25-40)
a. Occasion for its pronouncement.
It is difficult to determine precisely what it is that is the occasion for the judgment the apostle here pronounces. In verse 26 the apostle speaks of “the present distress” or perhaps better translated “the impending distress.” And in verse 28 he speaks of “trouble in the flesh” or better translated “tribulation for the flesh”. And in verse 29 he declares “but this I say, brethren, the time is short” or possibly better translated “the time is being shortened.”
Some of the commentators refer you to the tribulations that precede and accompany the second coming of Christ. They insist that the apostle believed that the parousia was imminent, and had forewarned the Church that intense affliction lay just ahead for those in Christ. And in view of this advises that it would be better to be single than married, since one will have
enough trouble for himself alone without having also the trouble agitated by the special care for a wife and possibly children. (See Matthew 24).
Others think that the “distress” and “tribulation” refer to the persecutions which children of God endure throughout this dispensation, and more particularly towards its end. And in view of this, the apostle points out the preference for single life. (See John 16:33)
Now it seems to us that this can hardly be the occasion for the apostle’s advice, for the simple reason that were it so the apostle would simply warn against marriage absolutely. But this he does not do. Though it may be true that the apostle expected Christ’s return and its attending circumstances imminent and though it is true that Christ had forewarned His Church of persecutions and tribulations in the world and in Matthew 24:22 declared that “for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened,” to which vs. 29 is said to refer, and though we are unable to determine exactly what the “trouble” or “distress” is to which the apostle refers, we believe there must have been some local disturbance in Corinth which prompted the Church to inquire and the apostle to advise regarding the advisability of marriage under these conditions. It appears that there was some impending distress, the nature of which was so exacting that it raised the question in the minds of some: would it be better for the time being to desist from marriage?
In respect to this the apostle will render his own judgment, for he knows of no expressed command of the Lord. The Church may consider the apostle’s judgment as trustworthy, for he has had mercy conferred upon him by the Lord, so that he is trustworthy also in his judgment and advice. He had obtained mercy to be Christ’s apostle, and therefore was apt to teach and instruct the Church as a truthful and faithful witness. As such his word of judgment must be received.
b. Its content.
As to his judgment as such, the apostle answers two-fold. In the first place, it must be clearly understood that it is not sinful to marry, or to remain single or unmarried. If one is already married he is not to break that marriage, (vs. 27) And a wife is bound by the law as long as her husband lives, (vs. 38) By implication this means too that one who does not marry also does not commit sin by remaining in the unmarried state.
In the second place, the apostle throughout this section of the Epistle clearly intimates that it can be profitable to remain single or unmarried. For one thing, the apostle warns that those who marry shall have trouble for the flesh. This cannot mean that the apostle is warning against domestic troubles, in which husband and wife quarrel with each other, or parents and children have difficulty in regulating the home and the differences that arise in the administration of the home. Though these can be and often are troubles for the flesh. Undoubtedly the apostle has in mind the fact that when troubles like persecution, war, sickness, etc., come, the troubles for the flesh are increased when one has another or others to think about besides himself. Surely a single man can go to war much easier than a husband and father. And when the Church is assailed for her faith, it can be endured much more effectively when there are no physical attachments of wife and children. It is much easier for a young man who is unmarried to reject the union than it is for a father of a family of children. And it appears that under the present, impending distress the apostle advises the young not to marry for this reason. He means to say that one can meet the impending circumstances more capably when he is unmarried.
c. Its intent.
That there is purpose in his advice is plain from several considerations. In the first place, the apostle would have them be free from anxiety. They must be “without carefulness”, vs. 32.
It lies in the very nature of their calling to center all their attention and care on their service of God. Nothing else may have preeminence in their lives. Therefore those that have wives must be as though they had none, those that weep as though they wept not, etc. This is most difficult to do. Of this the apostle is full aware, for He admits that one who is married cares for the things of the world how he may please his or her mate. Yet definite heed must be given to our calling, and our hearts may not be so over-taxed with anxiety that we are unable to fulfil it. In the second place, it is evident that positively the apostle would have the church set her mind on the heavenly scheme. In the last part of verse 31 he shows that the scheme of this world passes away. The world, this cosmos, in which we live, as it is developing under the power of sin and corruption, has a definite pattern which all men by nature follow and to which they conform. This world with its pattern is like a drama on a stage. It passes before you, but surely it passes off the stage. It is always in the process of passing away. But the children of God do not belong to that world, because they are being transformed in the renewing of their minds into the image of Christ. (Rom. 12:2) They belong to another world which God had eternally in mind, that is, a heavenly.
This world which shall presently replace the old one also has its pattern. And to this the Church is required to set her mind. To be married and given in marriage, we must not forget, belongs to the pattern of the world that pattern of the world that passes away. It is not therefore the most important thing in life. If therefore it is possible for us to be devoted to the heavenly scheme without any distraction, this is to be preferred as most desirable.
Questions for Discussion
1. Is it necessarily sinful to be subject to anxiety?
2. Does the apostle mean that because he only gives his advice, having no expressed command of the Lord, that his advice may be ignored?
3. Does verse 39 have anything to say about the matter of divorce?
4. What is the significance of the word “holy” in verse 34?
5. What does the apostle mean when he says in verse 40 that he has the “Spirit of God.”?
C. GIVING NO OFFENSE.
I Corinthians 8.
1. OCCASION FOR THIS SUBJECT.
Evidently the Church had asked the apostle’s advice regarding the eating of flesh offered to idols. No doubt many in the Church had only recently been converted from idolatry, and idolatrous practices. The connection between idolatry and impurity was very close, especially in Corinth, though the problem concerning the eating of meat offered to idols was not new, as is evident from Acts 15:29; 21:25.
The matter concerning which the apostle is required to shed light may be classed as belonging to adiaphora, that is, a matter which in itself is indifferent, ethically speaking. It is one of those things one may do or not do without committing a sin. It all depends on the subjective state of the mind and heart of the one affected. The questions here was relative to the eating of meat which has been offered to idols. This Left-over portion “was either eaten sacrificially, or taken home for private meals, or sold in the markets.” And the question was: “What were Christians to do about eating such portions either buying in the market or eating in the home of another or at the feast of an idol?” There were some who being more enlightened, acted on the basis of their superior
knowledge about the non-existence of the gods represented by the idols. Since their conversion to Christ, they know the emptiness of idol worship. Paul admits that all Christians have this knowledge, but the problem cannot be solved by knowledge. Only love edifies, builds up. To us, i.e., to the Christians, there is only one God, and one Lord Jesus Christ.
The apostle continues by making the distinction between the stronger and the weaker brother. The stronger is he who has this knowledge that it cannot possibly be sinful to eat meat just because it is sacrificed to idols. His conscience is free when he eats. He believes he is in harmony with the will of God, and does not violate any precepts when he eats of this meat.
On the other hand, there is also a weaker brother. He with “a conscience of the idol” eats that same meat as a thing offered to idols. And his “conscience being weak is defiled.”
2. THE SIN OF GIVING OFFENSE.
Now that weaker brother may see the stronger eating say in public: What will be the likely result? He may be ashamed of his own attitude, and just for his own sake also eat of
that meat, while his conscience tells him all the time that he sins by doing so. In such a case he very really sins, for he says to himself “it is as sin against my Lord to eat, but I am ashamed to confess Him here in public; hence, I rather deny the Lord than appear silly in the eyes of others.”
Well in such a case the stronger brother must refrain from eating meat, in order not to put a stumbling-block in the way of his weaker brother. If he nevertheless eats, knowing that he will cause the weaker brother to stumble, he thereby leads that weaker brother in the way of perdition. As far as he is concerned, he will let the brother, for whom Christ died, perish. The apostle does not say that the weaker brother shall perish, for whom Christ died. That is forever impossible. But he asks the stronger brother the question which in effect amounts to this: Shall, as far as it is in your power, as far as your attitude is the cause of it, through your greater knowledge, that weaker brother perish? Do you dare to assume the attitude that you care not whether the weaker brother stumbles and perishes, while Christ died for him? Will you not give up meat that your brother sin not? While Christ gave up His life that he should not perish?
3. THE CONCLUSION.
The answer to that last question is of course negative. “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”
This is Paul’s principle of love (vs. 2) applied to the matter of eating meats offered to idols. Paul had rather be a vegetarian than to lead his weak brother to do what he considered sin.
Questions for Discussion
1. What is conscience? Weak conscience? vs. 7.
2. What is your judgment of those churches which use grape-juice instead of fermented wine in the Lord’s Supper, on the principle that it may mislead a weaker brother?
3. What are some of the practical implications of this chapter?
4. In what way does one sin against Christ when he sins against the brother? vs. 12.
D. PAUL’S SELF-SACRIFICING LOVE FOR THE GOSPEL AN EXAMPLE.
I Corinthians 9.
1. THE CONNECTION OF THOUGHT HERE.
This chapter may be considered as a sort of interlude between chapter 8 and chapter 10. The line of thought expressed in chapter 8 is taken up again in chapter 10:27ff. He had given advice on the question of eating meat sacrificed to idols, and in chapter 10:27ff he concludes his advice on this matter.
In chapter 9, the apostle broadens out on the idea of foregoing one’s privilege for the sake of the brother. He closed chapter 8 with the declaration that he would eat no meat forever if he by doing so would make his brother to offend. He now shows how in his, entire ministry he lived by this principle of forsaking his privilege for the Gospel’s sake, and for the sake of the Church.
2. THE ASSERTION OF PAUL’S LIBERTY—(vss. 1-11)
a. His right as an apostle.
In the vss, 1-6, the apostle maintains the idea that he was an apostle not only, but also as an apostle was not below the rest of the apostles in their rights. He had the power (authority, right) to eat and drink like the others. He had the power (the right) to be married and care for a wife as well as Peter and the Lord’s brethren. He and Barnabas had the right to desist from doing manual labor as well as the rest of the apostles. By the latter he is evidently referring to the fact that he and Barnabas had received no help from the Church at Antioch when they went out on their first missionary journey, but were left to work their way at their own charges. This Paul preferred to do always, also particularly at Corinth. There was only one exception to this, and that was the gifts, he received from the Church at Philippi. But certainly he had a right to expect the same treatment as the rest of the ministers of God’s Word. It was also his privilege to be materially supported by the Church.
b. Proved by experience.
The apostle appeals to the congregation with an argument they all clearly understand to show that his position was in no respect below that of other apostles. He uses a three-fold illustration from everyday life to show this. A soldier who is called to military service does not go at his own expense. The man who owns and plants a vineyard cannot be denied the eating of the fruit which he himself has planted. The keeper of sheep will surely not be questioned when he drinks of the milk of his flock. Surely on this same basis no one could deny the apostle also the right to live of the Gospel. But if this argument will not suffice, Paul has yet another.
c. Proved by Scripture.
He will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has rights. Surely all will understand the Scripture which said: Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox, etc. And this Scripture, this commandment, was not given merely because God would have a special care for the beast which labored for its master, but this was written specifically, says Paul, for our sakes, for the apostles, for the ministers of God. When these ministers minister spiritual things it is expected that they shall reap the carnal things, the material necessities of life which the Church possesses and should use for the care of her ministers.
Questions for Discussion
1. Is it not peculiar that Antioch sent them away without assistance? How do you account for this? (Acts 13)
2. Would it be wrong today for a minister to do manual labor on the side for a living?
3. What is the content of “the freedom” in vs. 1?
4. How was the Church the seal of his apostleship? vs. 2.
3. THE SELF-DENIAL OF PAUL’S LIBERTY—I Cor. 9:12-27
a. More Proof of his Liberty
In the vss. 13,14, referring to the care the Lord provided for the priests in the O. T. by way of commandment, Paul lays one more proof before his readers of what also is to be expected with respect to ministers of the gospel. By law God provided for the Levitical priest’s material welfare in the old dispensation. They were to have of the fat of the sacrifices which the people brought. (See Leviticus 5, 6 and Numbers 18:8-20). Of this the church at Corinth was fully aware if she understood the O. T. Scriptures. But even if she didn’t, she should know that the Lord Jesus also had something to say about this. When He sent out the seventy, He gave them commandment, “and in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the laborer is worthy of his hire.” (Luke 10:7) Definitely therefore the Lord has seen to it that His Church shall provide for His ministers. They
may therefore expect their wages. Christ commands it.
b. The Self-Denial as such.
From the foregoing, it should be abundantly evident that the apostle could have taken advantage of the “power” (right) like others and, instead of doing manual labor, “lived of
the Gospel.” But this power he did not use. In vss. 12 and 15, he avers that he made no use of this right. He deliberately declined to use his right to pay in Corinth. He was willing to “suffer all things” vs. 12. The word “suffer” comes from a word the root meaning of which is “roof”, hence to cover up, to conceal, to endure. He was willing to be and to bear all things for the Gospels’ and for the Churches’ sake. Though he was free, he enslaved himself to all. (vs. 19). Unto the Jews he became a Jew; to those under law, as being under law; to those without law, as being without law; to the weak, he became as
weak. He was made all things for the Gospels’ sake.
c. The Purpose of this Self-Denial.
As I see it the purpose of the self-denial was three-fold. In the first place, the apostle’s intent was not to abuse his power (right) in the Gospel so that the cause of the Gospel of Christ be hindered, (vss. 12,18). I suppose this means that he would, never have it said of him that he preached the Gospel only for money. He would not have the Gospel, and its rich content depreciated by the fact that its preaching had added to Paul’s personal gain.
In the second place, he denied himself with the expressed purpose that by all means he might save some. (vs. 22). That Paul could become a Jew to win the Jew, come under the law to win those under the law, etc., does not mean that he could set aside principles, simply to gain converts. We know Paul better than to do that. But tactfully he applied himself to the work of winning souls. A preacher must be a soul winner, not, of course, in that silly sense in which it is spoken of in our day. As though Christ cannot save His own souls. That was not Paul’s intention. Rather he would not allow his own person, and character to stand in the way of getting the Gospel across. Too, for example, assume an aggressive attitude, a proud and haughty spirit in the presence of the weak, would spoil all contact with them. This is one of the hard tact with them. This is one of the hardest things for a preacher to learn. Paul was a master in this.
In the third place, it seems to me that there is something subjective in this self-denial of Paul. He was also concerned about his own salvation. He would also
be partaker of the things of the Gospel he preached to others, (vs. 23). He could not bear the thought that while he preached to others, he himself should be a castaway. He therefore personally brought himself into subjection like the runner in a race; the boxer in the arena. Surely should the apostle preach sincerely to others while he himself lived carelessly, he would not only be a hindrance to the Gospel, but he would also lose the certainty of his own salvation. And how necessary also this is for the preacher of the Gospel. He must always preach to himself as well as to others.
But there is more significance in this. Also the Church must learn from Paul’s example to walk in fear, or to put it in the words of Paul in another passage: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God Who worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure”.
Questions for Discussion:
1. Should a church pay her minister what he is worth, or what he needs?
2. What do you think of churches who vie with one another in the matter of salaries to get a certain minister?
3. Does the minister not have to reckon with his salary when he is considering a call?
4. Is there any significance in the fact that Paul does not say in vs. 22 that “to the strong I became as strong?”
4. THE FACT OF OUR CHRISTIAN LIBERTY—(I Cor. 6:9-20)
a. The bondage from which liberated. vss. 9-11.
What the apostle has to say from here on to the end of the chapter has reference, of course, to the corrupt conditions he had called to their attention in chapter 5, and thus far in chapter 6. The Church had condoned these corruptions and was apparently too weak to correct them. The apostle therefore becomes very sharp and definite in his condemnation of the evils, but also very patient in leading the Church to realize subjectively all the implications of her liberality in Christ. That the latter is true, is evident from the many times he asks the question: Know ye not? (see the verses 2,3,9,15,16,19).
The corruptions condoned by the Church are those which, if not repented of, must of necessity exclude from the kingdom of God. The unrighteous cannot inherit God’s Kingdom. Concerning this truth the Church should not be deceived. Perhaps there were some in the Church still under the influence of the philosophy of paganism which held the view and propagated it that the corruptions in the Church were mere natural things to be expected as long as we are in this world, but that very really they had nothing to do with one’s relation to God or His Kingdom. Perhaps it was the old distinction of nature and grace which it is said have nothing to do with each other. Be not deceived, says the apostle. You know better. The unrighteous inherit not the Kingdom of God.
And then the apostle enumerates as it were the solemn roll call of the damned who shall forever be outside that Kingdom. Striking it is that there are ten classifications mentioned that cover the category of the lost. I suppose the apostle could have added many more vices to this list, but he stopped at ten. It seems that he is saying: all who are unrighteous and remain in this state, are lost. And the sins descriptive of this unrighteousness all describe the depravity and bondage of human nature. The unrighteous are not described as haters of God and transgressors of His holy commandments, emphasizing the ethical nature of sin; but rather that which is the result of this hatred of God. God, according to Romans 1, gives the sinner over to a reprobate mind to do things unseemly. And so also here, the bondage of corruption is manifest in the sins committed against our bodies and those related to the bodies and properties of others. It is true that the sin of idolatry is also mentioned, but this too undoubtedly must be connected to the sins that accompanied their idolatrous practices.
Of these corruptions, the Corinthians were fully aware, and the apostle adds: “And such were some of you.” That was their former bondage.
“But,” says the apostle, “ye are washed, etc.” They have been liberated from these things, from these corruptions. They were in the past, but do not go back to them.
It appears that the apostle speaks of their liberation from the subjective point of view. Notice the order of their liberation. It is first washed, then sanctified, then justified. Objectively speaking the order would be in reverse. We are justified, then sanctified. But here justification is mentioned last to emphasize the order of experience. The expression “but ye are washed” most probably should be translated “but ye washed yourselves.” It probably means that they had consciously subjected themselves to baptism when they had been translated from darkness to light, from the bondage of corruption to the liberty in Christ. This cannot mean, of course, that the sinner washes himself from all his guilty stains. We know better, that it is the blood of Christ alone that washes away our sins. Yet, subjectively the sinner also plunges himself in the fountain of blood when believingly he comes under the water of baptism. And rising out of that water he experiences newness of life and the grace of justification. It is the liberty one experiences when he is circumscribed by “the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God.” When we are placed in the circle of the Name of Christ and the Spirit of God, we are truly liberated,
b. The exercise of our liberty: vss. 12-17
But does the liberty whereby Christ has made us free give license to do as we please? Such may have been the conclusion some had drawn from the doctrine of Christian liberty. Hence, with all kinds of excuses they allowed for all kinds of corruptions, also the corruptions in the Church of Corinth.
And so, the apostle reiterates what he no doubt had told them before. “All things are lawful for me.” Yes, that is true. We are not under the law of “touch not, taste not, handle not.” We are not subjected to ordinances of men which are intended to curb the body ritualistically, and deprive it of enjoying that which God has created for our enjoyment. We know of no law of work righteousness which has merit with God. Standing in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, we stand in the liberty of the Son of God. “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house forever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” John 8:34-36. Jesus and Paul both teach that in Christ God liberates us from the real bondage of sin and gives us the true liberty of His house and covenant. But does this mean that liberty is license? Paul says: “but not all things are expedient.” And further: “but I will not be brought under the power of any.” Paul is determined not to be a slave to anything, harmless though it be in itself. Not only would he maintain self-control, but he wills that himself and all things be brought into subjection to the will of Christ. That is the Christian’s true liberty. The freedom of the fish is its subjection to the law of the water. The freedom of the Christian is his complete subjection to the will and glory of Christ.
Verse 13 illustrates this truth. “Meats (food) for the belly, and the belly for meats (food).” Robertson suggests that this was a proverb which some in Corinth used to justify sexual license. We have no way of ascertaining whether this is true. However, it is true that indulgence in food and drink historically stand in close connection with the vices of fornication and adultery. It is a fact that accompanying their pagan feasts were the debaucheries of vice and crime in the history of the Greeks and Romans. But this expression will stand without historical connection. It is a law of God that food is created for the belly, and the belly for food. But does that end the matter? Is the belly or food an end—in themselves? No, God must be the end. The body was not created for fornication, but for the Lord. That it is for the Lord, is evident in the resurrection of Jesus, and also in our resurrection (vs. 14).
If then our bodies are for the Lord, and members of Christ how shall we make them the members of an harlot? God forbid! It is a truth self-evident that “he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.” And in one spirit we must be, not flesh. “What the harlot is in her vice and degradation, he becomes who joins himself to her.” (Lemski). But he who joins himself to the Lord “is one spirit with him.” We are then subjected to His will and love all that He loves, and therefore hate all He hates. That is the exercise of true liberty.
c. The application of this truth in Corinth, vss. 18-20.
Because ye know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom, and because ye are washed, sanctified and justified in the name of Christ and Spirit of our God, and because not all things are expedient for you thought lawful and because ye know that your bodies are the members of Christ and one spirit with Him, therefore Church of Corinth “Flee fornication!”
This imperative is negative, you understand, in view of the existing conditions in Corinth which need serious correction. Fornication violates Christ’s rights in our bodies, so the apostle had instructed in vss. 13-17; but it also ruins the body itself. Hence, the apostle continues in vss. 18,19 with “Every sin (sinful act) that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.” And further: “What! know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?”
When the apostle declares “every sin that a man doeth is without the body,” he refers not only to the acts of sin but also to the results. Even gluttony and drunkenness and the use of dope are sins wrought on the body, not “within the body,” in the same sense as fornication. In fornication the body is the instrument of sin and becomes the subject of the damage wrought. In respect to his body the Christian knows especially two things. He knows that his body is the temple of the Holy Ghost because he is a member of Christ and the Spirit of Christ dwells in him. He knows too that with body and soul he is not his own but belongs to his faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ (L.D. 1). Since therefore also his body belongs to Christ he has no right to use it in the service of sin.
Moreover, the imperative: “Flee fornication!” has a positive implication. “Therefore glorify God in your body.” When it is considered that our bodies are not our own for we “have been bought with a price,” the price of the precious blood of Christ (I Pet. 1:19; Matt. 20:28), and we consider also that evidently our bodies were precious to Him, then we will understand the enormity of the sin of fornication. And further, we will seek to use our bodies to the intent for which they were redeemed, namely to God’s glory. Surely the Church at Corinth should now understand how awful her condition was that allowed these sins in her midst.
As to the words “and in your spirit, which are God’s” which occur in verse 20, it is doubtful whether they belong to the text. In the Greek they appear only as a second reading.
Questions for Discussion
1. What is the difference between the doctrine of Christian liberty and Anti- nominianism?
2. What is meant by “adiaphora”? Does Paul refer to this in verse 12?
3. What is the difference between fornication and adultery, if any?
4. Does the “new man” in Christ include also our bodies? If so, why must our present bodies disintegrate in the grave?
B. QUESTIONS REGARDING MARRIAGE AND CELIBACY—Chapter 7
1. ON MARRIAGE AND CELIBACY IN GENERAL—(I Cor. 7:l-9)
a. The occasion for this subject.
It should be plain from vs. 1 that it was not the apostle’s intention to write on the entire subject of marriage. The occasion for writing on this subject was evidently a series of questions the Church had sent to him. The apostle had criticized the Church for condoning loose practices (Chapter 5), and, though the Church could heartily agree with the apostle’s criticism, this did not mean that all their problems were immediately solved. Hence, the Church must have raised several questions which they expected the apostle to answer. One of these questions must have been: Is it always necessary for a man to marry, or are there certain circumstances when it would be better to abstain? And most likely there was a specific case which the Church had in mind when it asked this question. If understood in this light, we will also understand why the apostle, though speaking of marriage, does not say all that he could have said, about it. For instance, we read nothing in this Chapter of the typical significance of marriage of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 5.
b. Erroneous conclusions.
Several erroneous conclusions have been made from the instruction which the apostle here gives regarding marriage and celibacy. There are those who conclude that the apostle advocates celibacy in preference to marriage. They base their conclusion on what Paul says in vs. 1: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” And again, in vss. 7, 8, where the apostle would have all men be as he was namely, single or unmarried. Still others find in this instruction a basis for the conviction that marriage is a state inferior to celibacy not only, but marriage is a state for the morally weak. To them marriage is a way out for those who have the gift of continency. Though marriage may be in certain cases good, celibacy is better. The Romish Church, no doubt, rests its theory of unmarried priesthood and nunnery upon this passage.
c. Idea of celibacy and marriage.
It should be established first of all that Paul in no sense of the word disdains the institution of marriage. Rather in the light of what he writes here and again in Eph. 5, it is plain that he highly exalts this creational ordinance of God. Paul conceives of marriage as a union of one man and one woman (no polygamy) in which both have duties and responsibilities which they mutually realize, (vss. 3-5). And according to Eph. 5, Paul not only looks at marriage as a divinely created union before the fall into sin, but also after the fall, thru regeneration, a union in which a man and woman exemplify in a creatural sense what takes place spiritually in the marriage of Christ and His Church.
Thus considered, marriage, according to the apostle, is a divine institution to be kept holy by those who enter into this state. When the apostle writes: “it is good for a man not to touch a woman,”’ he does not mean that it is sinful to do so, but he evidently refers to a specific case mentioned by the Church. In the case mentioned (whatever it was, we know not), it would be good. In other words, the apostle can conceive of a case or cases where it would be better for a man not to touch a woman, i.e., be sexually related to her No doubt the case referred to a man or a woman in the unmarried state. If a man cannot control himself, then let them marry lest they commit fornication, the very sin which seemed to be so prevalent in Corinth. This cannot mean of course, that marriage was instituted to be a way of escaping the sin of fornication. That is not the purpose of marriage, neither is it so that those in the married state cannot commit this sin. (See Heid. Cat. L.D. 41).
In the marriage relation there are mutual duties and responsibilities to be carried out. Vs. 4 does not deny the headship of the husband over the wife which Paul emphasizes in Eph. 5:22, 23. He is here simply pointing out that in the sexual relation both lose the authority or right over their own body, or rather transfer that authority equally to the other. So intimate is the marital relation as far as the body is concerned. The only exception to this (see vs. 5), and this also by mutual agreement for a definite time, is when each seeks to be at leisure to carry out their religious duties, private devotions. However this is not mandatory (according to commandment) but according to concession (vs. 6). He means to say that husband and wife may deprive each other for a season which is good, but this is not commanded of them. The apostle, it appears, is only advocating self-control also in the married state.
However, he also conceives of this self-control outside of the married state, and which incidentally he preferred (vs. 7). Though he would not advocate celibacy for all, for all do not have this gift and calling, he believes there are some, including himself, who will and must practice it. There is a case when it is good not to touch a woman, if one can control himself, and the apostle is the example of that case. He had a calling of God, which, were he married would have made it difficult for him to fulfill. There are those who are made eunuchs for the Kingdom of heaven’s sake. (Matt. 19).
Questions for Discussion
1. Is the celibacy practiced in the Romish Church to be defended in the light of Scripture?
2. What is the purpose of the institution of marriage?
3. If marriage is a symbol of the union of Christ and His Church, how can Paul desire to remain unmarried?
4. Does vs. 6 militate against infallible inspiration?
5. Disprove that marriage is a sacrament as the Romish Church has it?
2. SEPARATION IN THE MARRIED STATE, (vss. 10-16)
a. The question of separation
To understand this section of the chapter, it is well to keep in mind what we said before, that evidently the apostle had received a series of questions from the Church which arose out of the instruction he had given regarding existing conditions in the Church. In the preceding outline the advice was given especially to those in the unmarried state. But now a question arose with regard to the state of those already married.
Undoubtedly there were several instances in the Church where one of the married parties had become a believer in Christ. The other party remained in his unbelieving state. And so the question arose: Would the apostle advise that the believer should separate from the unbeliever? It is not a question here: May a believer marry an unbeliever? The apostle would make short work of such a question by asking another question: “What concord has Christ with Belial, or a believer with an infidel, etc.” II Cor. -6:14-17. No believer has any business to marry an unbeliever. But here we have a believer and an unbeliever already married. It is a case of both being unbelievers when they married, and of one of the married parties now becoming a believer. Should then the believer separate from the unbeliever? That is the question.
b. Advice on separation.
We notice first of all that the apostle dwells first on the command of the Lord which stipulates the inviolable nature of the marriage bond. Paul evidently refers here to the instruction which the Lord gave, recorded in Matt. 5:31ff; 19:3-12; Mark 10:9-12; Luke 6:18. (Look up the passages). And he bases also his instruction especially on this command of Christ: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” Though all marriages are not “in the Lord”, all marriages are nevertheless so that God joins the parties in marriage. He gives unto each his mate. And marriage is a union of two persons which only God can break, and He does so only by death (Rom. 7:2, 3). It is our opinion that a study of the above mentioned Gospel passages will show that separation is possible only on the grounds of fornication, but physical separation does not destroy the marriage relation. Only death of one of the parties can dissolve the union. And this is also the instruction of the apostle here with regard to the separation of a believer and unbeliever. The Lord had not given any specific command in this case. He only spoke of the case of fornication. But the principle holds also here. Therefore “let not the wife separate from her husband (vs. 10) and let not the husband send away his wife.” (vs. 11).
However, in the second place, the apostle continues “if in spite of Christ’s clear cut prohibition, he or she gets separated, let her remain unmarried.” We must notice here that the apostle makes no allowance for remarriage even of the innocent party. Either she or he should remain unmarried, or be reconciled. That is the rule to follow.
In the third place, the apostle, speaking now specifically of the matter of the believer separating from the unbeliever, declares that if the unbeliever finds it agreeable to live with the believer, then the believer should not attempt to put the unbeliever away. They should continue to live together.
And fourthly, if the unbeliever decides nevertheless to depart, then the believer is free to let the unbeliever go. The believer is not under obligation to live with that person. But also here it must be understood that the innocent party may not marry again. However, the believer should not be happy to let the other go until he or she has done everything in their power to avoid it. Calvin writes: “a desire for divorce is at variance with our profession.”
c. The unbeliever and sanctification.
In vs. 4, we have the reason given why the believing husband or wife should not separate from the unbeliever. “For the unbelieving wife (or husband) is sanctified by the believing husband (or wife).” And, “their children are holy” It stands to reason, and it is also in accord with all Scripture, that this cannot mean that the unbeliever becomes holy in the ethical, spiritual sense, by virtue of his or her marriage to a believer. Neither does it mean that children born of such a marriage are holy in the ethical sense of that term. The very fact that they are unbelieving excludes all thought of personal, spiritual sanctification. As far as their persons are concerned, all unbelievers are unsanctified. Neither can we agree with those who believe that the apostle means to say here that the unbeliever has some kind of a blessing bestowed on him thru his marriage with a believer, as if God gave some kind of grace to the ungodly because of his marriage to a believer. Neither does this sanctification refer to some ecclesiastical sense in which the Church must reckon the unbeliever as worthy to be taken up in her membership because he or she is married to a believer.
But it does mean that the unbeliever as party in the marriage is sanctified by the believing mate. The believer determines the character of the marriage from a spiritual viewpoint. If one of the parties is a believer, then that party makes the marriage to be in the line of the covenant, and the children born of that marriage are not unclean, but holy. Here, of course, it must be clearly understood that the term “holy” as applied to the children does not refer to some kind of an external holiness, but to an actually being holy in Christ. Naturally this cannot mean that each child that is born is head for head holy in Christ. Neither does it mean that “all your children are holy” But the generations of God’s people are here treated according to their spiritual seed.
d. The believer saving the unbeliever.
From what has been said so far, it should be plain that we understand the apostle as saying that the believer (husband or wife) is not at liberty to separate from the unbeliever. If there is to be any separation the action must come from the unbeliever. And in such cases the believer “is not under bondage” By the latter we do not understand the marriage bond as such is broken (for no can break it) but the apostle evidently refers to the command to live together, (vss. 12, 13). If the believer has done all in his or her power to stay together, and the unbeliever departs anyway, then the believer is free from the command to live to get her.
But one who is a believer should not conclude too easily that he or she is free. There is also another thing to keep in mind, that should also serve as an incentive for living together. “For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?”
There are those who have sought the marriage of art unbeliever on the grounds of this text. When they were warned not to seek that marriage, they argued: Does not Paul say whether thou shalt save thy husband or wife? And, ignoring the advice not to marry, they went thru with it anyway. This is an awful sin. But the apostle as was said is speaking here of those who are already married. And one of the married couple is a believer. Rather than to leave the unbeliever, should not the believer try to save the unbeliever? O, of course, this does not mean that man can actually save. God, in Christ, only saves. But God is pleased often to use human instruments. So if the unbelieving be pleased not to depart, is it not possible that by the good conversation of the believer he or she may be won to Christ? An unbeliever is not necessarily a reprobate. He may become a believer.
Questions for Discussion
1. Is “departing” the same as divorce?
2. If one of the married couple departs, is the other free to marry again?
3. Are all the children of believers “holy” If so, in what sense?
4. Is it proper to say that we will save souls for Christ?
5. How would a believer proceed to save an unbeliever if that is possible?
3. WALKING ACCORDING TO OUR CALLING – (Vss. 17-24)
a. A General Principle to Determine the Question Regarding Separation in Marriage.
Evidently the connection of thought between vs. 17 and what follows is with the latter part of vs. 15. There the apostle spoke of the freedom of the brother or sister whose unbelieving mate is determined to separate. As we said before, the believer cannot do anything about it if the unbeliever so determines to leave. If the believer has done all in his or her power to keep the marriage union, then in that case the believer is free. (This does not mean, of course, to marry again).
But, the apostle continues in vs. 17, this should not be easy. There should be no reckless abuse of our liberty. We are not to forget that the Lord also determines our lot, and in every state we are in we have a calling of God. If our lot has been to be united by bonds of flesh and blood to an unbeliever, as the case evidently was in Corinth, well then also in that lot we have a calling to realize. This truth the apostle emphasizes with apostolic authority. It must be maintained in all churches.
Regarding that calling, the apostle evidently refers first of all to the call which came to them in their unbelieving state, the call to conversion. Here are two (husband and wife) pagans. The Gospel of God came to them, and God by the Spirit and Word of Christ called one of them out of darkness into light. That is one aspect of the calling. But that calling also includes their daily vocation in the state and condition in which they are found. And they should not easily set aside that calling. That is, they are to be lights in the midst of darkness. They are to walk as children of light even in the presence of children of darkness. Yes, even when their mates belong to the latter class.
b. The Principle Illustrated by the Case of Circumcision.
“Is any one called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not become circumcised.”
Did God call them when they were uncircumcised? Well then, that is the state in which they are to realize their calling. Did He call them when they were circumcised? Well then, that is the state in which they also are to realize their calling. Neither to be circumcised nor to be uncircumcised is anything. But the keeping of God’s commandments is something. And that commandment is that in whatever state we are in there to realize our calling to be children of light.
Of the worth of circumcision or un-circumcision, Paul also spoke in Gal. 5:6; 6:15; and Romans 2:25-29. He is not a Jew whose circumcision is outward in the flesh, but he is a Jew whose circumcision is inward, of the heart. When he was called therefore by God, whether Jew or Gentile, let him abide in that wherein he was called. The Jew must not seek to become a Gentile, nor must the Gentile seek to become a Jew, but each must seek to walk as a ”new creature” by faith which worketh by love.
c. Illustrated by the case of slavery.
Also here the apostle was dealing with a case well-known to the Corinthians. Many were slaves, literally, when the Lord called them. Does that mean now that one who is a slave must seek to leave his bondage? O, if that could be realized the apostle grants that the slave may take advantage of it. But that isn’t the important thing. “For he that is called in the Lord, even though he is a slave, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise, also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant” Though one called in the Lord is literally a slave of man, in the estimation of the Lord he is the Lord’s freeman. And he that is freed by the Lord is become His servant. Christ has bought him with a very dear price of His own life, so that he belongs entirely to Him with body and soul. It follows then that if he is Christ’s he will never more seek to be the servant of men spiritually, though physically he is born a slave. As a physical slave of man, he knows he is the Lord’s freeman, and spiritually Christ’s stave. And this service of Christ and calling he will realize in his physical bondage.
Both of these illustrations must serve to show also the believer in a mixed marriage what his or her calling is over against the unbelieving husband or wife.
Questions for Discussion
1. What constitutes one’s walk?
2. In what sense does the illustration of circumcision or uncircumcision serve the apostle’s purpose?
3. How does the illustration of the servant serve the apostle’s purpose?
4. Why does the apostle add: “therein abide with God” in vs. 24?
6. CONCLUSIONS CONCERNING PARTISANSHIP
(I Cor. 4:14-21)
a. The Motivation of the Severe Rebuke:
In verses 14 and 16 the apostle expresses two reasons for his writing as he had. The first of these is “to admonish them in love”. It was not his aim to air their sins and to expose them to shame before others. It was in the attitude expressed in Hebrews 13:17 that he approached them in his letter and this they must know or it would be impossible for them to receive his admonition. He watched over their souls as one who must give an account. In love he reached out to spare them from the evils that were threatening their destruction. His purpose was to correct and not to destroy. To leave them go on in this wrong way without admonition would be cruelty and hatred. To correct them is love. Such is the only character of Christian admonition.
This, in the second place, the apostle does because he is so very conscious of the relation he sustains to them as their “spiritual father who had begotten them in Christ through the gospel”. By employing this figure he emphasizes two things. First, the love he has for them is unique and must be distinguished from that of the pedagogues. It is a father’s love resulting from the fact that they were brought into being as a church of Christ through his efforts. A pedagogue or teacher was one who was employed as a guide or attendant, of a child to whom was committed the care of a child. He would lead the child, instruct the child, and watch over the child’s conduct. Yet the child did not belong to the teacher and, therefore, the affection and care of the teacher would not be that of a father to whom the child belonged. Though the Corinthians had thousands of these, the concern they would have for them would not equal that of Paul, their spiritual father. And secondly, this title stresses the fact of the apostle’s authority over them. Now merely the fact that Paul had brought the church here into existence would not give him authority but that he did this “in Christ” and “through the gospel” makes the difference. His authority is then that of “Christ and the gospel.” And so they must receive the correction he administers to them as it comes to them in a father’s love and with Christ’s authority.
b. The Concluding Exhortation:
In verse 16 the apostle expresses what he, as a father, expects of the Corinthians, his children. “Wherefore” denotes that whereas he is their father, he now with love and authority must. enjoin them to be followers (imitators) of himself. We note that this counsel is given with a view to the contentions and spirit of partisanship that existed. The apostle’s advice then must not be construed to mean that he desires the whole church to unite in the “party, of Paul” in contrast, to the others. That would be in conflict with what he had written in ch. 3:7, and 4:6. He does not mean that, they must be “followers” in that way. Rather, he uses a word that means “imitators” and his meaning is that even as he, the apostle, imitated Christ, so they must imitate him, for in doing this they also would be imitators of Christ Himself and all partisanship and contentions would be avoided. They are to walk in “the ways which are in Christ”. (I Cor. 11:1). This exhortation is very comprehensive and includes their doctrine and the whole of their practical life. They are to follow no man except in as far as he leads them to Christ and in the way of Christ.
To facilitate them in doing this the apostle has sent to them Timothy, Paul, himself was at this time pressed with others labors which could not be left at this time so he sends to them another. Two characteristics are mentioned of Timothy. He is a beloved son. This is not understood in the physical sense but denotes that Timothy was very intimate with Paul so that if anyone knew of Paul’s ways and teachings, he did. Further, he is faithful in the Lord. The Corinthian’s can receive him with confidence for he will not deceive them or mislead them but will recall to them the sure way of the Lord as they had learned it from the apostle. This may also denote that. Timothy was not a servant of Paul even though the latter sent him but he was one who carried out faithfully the mandates of the Lord.
c. A Final Warning to Boasters:
There would be some conceited boasters in the church who would interpret this act of the apostles sending Timothy as a cowardly gesture. They would boastfully claim that Paul was afraid of them and did not dare to face the situation himself. In this they are grossly mistaken for the apostle’s reason for refraining from coming at this time was not fear but “the will of the Lord”. He must follow that “will” in all things, (see James 4:15). Should the Lord permit he will come soon and deal with these vaunters. He will challenge not their oratory and eloquent speaking but their “power of the Spirit and wisdom of God.” He will then also deal with the church as a whole and it will be up to them as to the methods he will employ in doing so. If they continue in their way it will be necessary to use “the rod of correction” but if they heed the admonition given he will manifest a spirit of meekness and love. This does not mean the rod will not be used in love but it denotes a different manifestation of love. A father does not always use the same means although he does have the same love toward his child.
Questions for Discussion
1. How would you approach an erring brother to correct him in love?
2. Must a minister always preach the same in different congregations where local circumstances vary?
3. Are there vaunters in the church today? How can they be detected?
4. How is a minister to know the Lord’s will with respect to the place of his labor? Must he wait for an audible voice? Or are there other indications?
A. PURGING OUT MORAL EVILS
Chapters 5 and 6
1. THE CASE OF THE INCESTUOUS MAN — (Chapter 5:1-7)
a. His Case as Such:
A very grievous evil existed in the church of Corinth. It was no secret matter but was generally known and spoken of also outside of the church. It is striking that any evil in the church attracts universal attention. Men will begin to talk about the church as soon as they can find some “filthy morsel” upon which to ‘chew. We must watch carefully that such dogs remain unfed.
In Corinth there was an incestuous person who lived with his father’s wife. (Probably step-mother or mother-in-law). His fornication was commonly known. In Israel under the Old Testament law such a person would be put to death, (Lev. 18:8, 29; Deut. 22:30). The sin is no less grievous in the New Testament. It was a sin that was considered intolerable and detested even among pagans. That such a condition was found in the church was astonishing. It was likely not the only case of moral corruption but perhaps the outstanding one and may be taken as a reflection of a general degenerate condition found here.
b. The Attitude of the Church:
When we speak of the church in this connection we do not have in mind every member, but the church represented in the offices, The elders not only tolerated this man but they revealed no regrets at all that the thing was occurring. They gloried vainly in themselves and were puffed up with pride and conceit. They did not regard the honor of God and the sanctity of His church as they ought. Calvin states that there are especially two reasons why they should have been weeping over this matter. Quote: “First, in consequence of the communion that exists among the members of the church, it was becoming that all should feel hurt at so deadly a fall on the part of one of their number; and secondly, when such an enormity is perpetrated in a particular church, the perpetrator of it is an offender in such a way that the whole society (church) is in a manner polluted.” A certain faction sided with the guilty and justified his rascality. Unless corrected the church suffers disastrously under such circumstances. (see Joshua 7, Ques. 82 of Heid. Cat.).
c. The Apostle’s Judgment in the Case:
With apostolic authority the apostle expresses his verdict in the matter and calls the church to execute it. Verse 5 to some means “to deliver him over to bodily or physical punishment” as Job, i.e., was afflicted by Satan. We rather explain this to mean “excommunication from the fellowship of the church” because the word “flesh” here is not the same as “body” but in contrast to “spirit” denotes “ethical nature”. Verse 11 of this chapter also favors this. Paul’s judgment is that such a one must be disciplined in order that it may serve as a means to save him as is always the purpose of Christian discipline. To this brother, too, the apostle is a “father” but this very evil child needs very strong measures of correction.
d. A Warning and Admonition to the Church:
In verses 6 and 7 the apostle uses the figure of leaven to warn the church of the danger threatening them if they fail to treat the evil doer according to his counsel. Leaven in small quantity will pervade a whole mass of dough and diffuse itself through it all. So they might think it a small matter and unimportant that this one sinner be treated but then they will discover that his evil will soon permeate the entire church. Did you ever notice how the bad example of one in the church, catechism, society, etc., will often be used as an excuse or justification by others? Cast out the old leaven! You cannot celebrate the Lord’s Supper this way. The Jews had to remove all leaven before the Passover and so the church must purify herself for Christ, her Passover.
Questions for Discussion
1. How serious must a sin be before the Consistory must exercise discipline?
2. In any discipline case what must the elder remember according to verse 4? Why is this important?
3. Why is it more natural to criticize the sins of a brother than to weep over them? Can we do more than weep? If so, what?
4. What does this lesson teach us with regard to our personal responsibility to the Church? To one another?
2. THE CASE OF PROPER CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP—(Chapter 5:8-13)
a. Remarks in General:
This entire section is a continuation of the preceding and belongs with it. The apostle is discussing the matter of the incestuous person and the duty of the church with respect to him. However, when Paul speaks of purging out the old leaven, though it may be granted he had in mind primarily that fornicator, there is no reason to limit his exhortation to this. We believe that he means “purge out of the church all that is of evil”. Where this was not done the church exposed herself to another serious evil which is the subject of discussion in the present section. That evil was that the good members of the church would associate with the evil doer in an intimate and friendly way. The church became corrupted further through evil social contacts. To warn and correct them from this evil the apostle writes here about the matter of proper christian fellowship. We consider this the main idea of these verses.
b. With Whom Fellowship Is To Be Avoided.
In some previous letter the apostle had already told the Corinthians that they were to break off all fellowship with the ungodly world. This he mentions again here and makes plain that he does not mean that the Christian may have no contact of any kind with the world for that would be physically impossible. (see John 17:15) A physical antithesis and separation is not meant. But they are to avoid “fellowship”. They are to avoid keeping company with the world because they are covetous (grabbers), extortioners (robbers, grafters), idolaters (not servers of God) and these things are unbecoming to the Christian. We may not belong as one with them in their “unions, brotherhoods,” etc. Nor may our children be given “to keep company” with their children in their (public) schools. We should know better than to try to justify intimacy with the world on any ground. Scripture forbids it.
Further, the same fellowship is forbidden with respect to those who are in the church and conducts himself as the world. (Note II Thes. 3:14; Matt. 18:17; II John 10) From those who say they are Christians but who act like worldlings we must remain separate. Again, it does not imply absolute separation. We must admonish and warn them but we must not be sociable with them. We may not connive with them in their evil. We may not eat with them because eating together expresses the idea of fellowship and agreement. All social contact with evil doers is forbidden. “’Be ye separate!”
c. With Whom To Have Fellowship:
Although this point is not expressly stated in the text, it is a worthy one to consider. It follows by implication that if we are forbidden to have fellowship with “railers, drunkards, etc.” whether they call themselves “brothers” or not, we must seek fellowship with those who in “sincerity and truth are adherents to the faith”. The believer is not one who has no social life but is one who confesses in word and action ‘the communion of saints’. God’s enemies are my enemies and God’s friends are my friends. The society of God’s people is not to be characterized by “revelry, debauchery, immorality, etc.” Leave that to the fornicators! But God’s people eat together in the fear of God and have fellowship in His Word and Covenant. We are to select our associates from those who not only say they are “brothers” (or sisters) but who reveal in their way of life that they are such.
d. The Salutary Purpose:
Where the faithful in the church practice this the wicked ones will soon be cast out and the communion of the church is purified. In Corinth the difficulty was that the fornicator had too many friends. He was left undisciplined and several were attracted to his “way of the flesh” and upheld him. Then the church is only corrupted more. Where the old leaven of malice and wickedness is cast out, the feast can be among believers in the way that pleases God. It can be done “in sincerity and truth”. Various interpretations of the ‘feast’ mentioned in verse 8 are given. Some hold that Paul refers here to a Jewish Passover to be held about this time and refer to I Cor. 16:8 to sustain their claim. Others say that the apostle speaks of the Lord’s Supper. We feel inclined to agree with Meyer who writes: “they too must keep their feast in an ethical sense, that is to say, by leading a holy life, without sinful admixture, with pure and true Christian virtue. . . the keeping of the Passover is meant to be a figurative representation of the character of the whole of a Christian’s walk and conversation, because this is to be without moral leaven.”
Proper selection of friends and associates is wholesome to proper sanctified Christian living. This must be our constant goal.
Questions for Discussion
1. What do you consider a proper norm by which to gauge friends?
2. Is it wrong to be friendly to your neighbor who is not a church member?
3. Show that Anabaptism is in conflict with this passage!
4. If one of our friends turns bad, how evil must they get before we are to break off fellowship with them?
5. Must II John 10 be observed with respect to relatives too? Just, what does this verse mean?
3. THE CASE OF LAW SUITS (Chapter 6:1-8)
a. The evil as such:
It appears from a casual reading of this passage that Paul condemns the act of going to law. Yet, this is not the case, for then it seems that the apostle’s own action of appealing to Caesar in defense of his own case would also be sin. There is a deeper and much more serious offense here. It was the Jewish position that no matter could ever be brought before Gentile courts as is evident from these words: “Whosoever goeth before them with a law suit is impious, and does the same as tho he blasphemed and cursed; and hath lifted his hand against Moses.” This, however, is not the Christian position which recognizes civil authority in its own sphere. The evil here did not consist in the fact of a law-suit but rather: (1) in that brother rose up against brother. This was no doubt a result of the contentions and party factions that existed in the church. One evil flows out of another until there is an uncontrollable stream of iniquity. (2) in that one brother would cheat and defraud another and sought the assistance of heathen judges to do so. There was no evidence of love, kindness and the Spirit of Christ among the brethren but rather their works evidenced malice, hatred and similar vices. (3) in that they chose to despise the church and her offices and resorted to heathens to settle their differences. This is tantamount to despising Christ who rules in the church and ignoring His law as the norm of justice. There was a lack of moral virtue and relationship among the brethren that resulted in this grievous situation.
b. An important Consideration of Truth
One of the fundamental troubles here lay in the fact that the brethren refused to recognize the offices and counsel of the church (of Christ). The apostle speaks here with severity directing them to the fact that there is no comparison between ‘a saint’ and a ‘worldling’ when it comes to matters of judgment. Apart from the fact that the mind of the natural man is corrupt and that man is always “unjust” (in the original ‘unrighteous’), Paul reminds us of the place which saints occupy as judges by Divine appointment. First, they will judge the world and secondly, they will even judge angels. Interpretations vary on these verses. Many explain this to mean that the saints are judging and condemning the world now in the same manner that Noah condemned the world of his time. Our works are a testimony against the world. Concerning angels some say our judging them means that if one should come and appear among us with evil things we must condemn them also. (Gal. 1:8) There may be an element of truth in this but our interpretation is that this refers to the end of time when Christ will judge men and angels with finality and we, the saints, will appear with Him in that judgment expressing the final verdict with Him. Having the mind of Christ, we shall also speak with Him condemning justly all that now stands opposed to Him and His cause.
If then the saints are elevated to such a high position it is indeed a terrible thing to even think them incapable of judging in trivial matters that concern only the things of this present earthly life. I believe that Paul speaks sarcastically in verse 4 to those who were guilty of this sin of litigation when he tells them to appoint those who are least esteemed in the church to judge their matters. His meaning is that they ought to know, that the lowest saint is a more competent judge than the highest heathen. It is a shame that they do not attempt to settle their differences among themselves.
But that is not all. It is unbelievable that there is not one in the entire church who is wise and capable of passing judgment upon those matters that were appearing in pagan courts. It is as unbelievable as it is untrue. The trouble lay in the fact that the brethren sinned and evaded the judgment and advice of the church. They must be brought back to understand that apart from Christ there is neither justice nor equity. To obtain these things then they must go to saints in whom Christ dwells.
c. Sound but Difficult Counsel:
Viewing this situation the apostle states that “there is utterly a fault among them”. The word here translated “fault” has in it the idea of “a defeat”. To carry on this way meant for the church a defeat. It meant that all that belonged to the church in the way of Christian virtue, of love, of forgiving one another, of bearing each-others burdens, etc. would be lost. The brother who would take his case to law might gain an acre of land by default but what is that in comparison to the loss of his soul. It is better to suffer the loss of earthly things, it is better to be cheated and lose all then to suffer spiritual defeat. Of course, also this should not be among saints. Yet, the victory of spiritual virtue is more glorious than a victory in a civil court. How hard a lesson this is for our flesh to learn but learn it we must. Until we do there is a fault among us.
Questions for Discussions
1. Is it right for a church to go to law under any circumstances?
2. How is it possible to love a brother who has cheated us out of a material possession?
3. If two brothers have difficulty concerning a legal claim on property, etc. can they appeal to the Consistory to solve or judge their case?
4. Harmonize Chapter 6:5 with 4:14.
5. If the “cheating brother” is not brought to court, how will he be properly punished?
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