Ministry & Encouragement

May 28, 2011 at 14:12 o\clock

Upper Room Ministry (part 5)

The Upper Room Ministry (John 13-17) (5)

J Gibson, Derby

John 15

This chapter leans upon the Old Testament illustration of Israel as Jehovah’s vine. As such they were responsible to bear fruit for God. Sadly, in this duty they failed. However, Christ succeeded where they failed; hence the description of Himself as "the true vine" (v.1). Since vital union with Christ inevitably leads to persecution (Acts 14.22), He explained the reasons that lie behind the world’s vehement hatred of believers. Through the powerful indwelling Holy Spirit saints are enabled to witness in such a hostile climate.

Fruit bearing (vv.1-17)

The Vine. "I am" (v.1) is an Old Testament name for the eternal, self-sufficient God. By unreservedly applying this title to Himself, the Lord Jesus witnessed to His own deity. In stating, "I am the true vine" (v.1), He immediately compared and contrasted Himself with Israel the nation. God had delivered Israel from Egypt (Ps 80.8), transplanting them in the fruitful Promised Land, where they were free to put down deep roots and grow into a large spreading plant (Ps 80.8-11,15; Is 5.1). While there, Israel was given every conceivable advantage to promote fruitfulness. This is what God eagerly looked for (Is 5.2-4; 27.3). Instead, however, Israel "turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine" (Jer 2.21), brought forth "wild grapes" (Is 5.2), fruit for herself rather than God (Hos 10.1). The gnarled, twisted wood of a vine, if unfruitful, is worthless for anything (Ezek 15.2-5), and so God judged them. God withdrew His protecting care allowing surrounding nations to tread down the vine (Ps 80.12,13; Is 5.5); and in judgment it was burned (Ps 80.16; Ezek 15.5-8). Mercifully, the Old Testament still holds out a glorious hope for Israel’s future as Jehovah’s vine, when it will "fill the face of the world with fruit" (Is 27.6) under Messiah’s direction.

Israel was meant to be "the choicest vine" (Is 5.2) and "a noble vine" (Jer 2.21), but only Christ fulfils these descriptions. He too was brought out of Egypt (Mt 2.15). Israel was granted an exceptionally fertile and well-maintained land in which to flourish, protected by fencing, a wall, and a hedge (Is.5.2,5). The Saviour grew up "as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground [harsh surroundings]" (Is 53.2), surrounded by enemies and experiencing relentless temptation by the Devil (Lk 4.13). As God constantly watched over Israel with tender care, so the Father ever watched with delight the pathway of His beloved: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Mt 3.17). Unlike Israel, the Saviour was always fruitful. Sinful Israel was judged by God, and so the vine was broken down and burned. The Saviour also experienced divine wrath, but for the very different reason of atonement.

The Vinedresser. God the Father, as "the [perfect] husbandman" (v.1), constantly and meticulously cares for "every branch" (v.2). Through the Word of God fruitful branches are cleansed from everything that would impair fruit bearing (vv.3,15; Heb 12.11), while fruitless branches are noted, and dealt with accordingly (vv.2,6). Fruitful Christians glorify God the Father (v.8) just as a productive vine reflects well on its vinedresser.

The Branches. This passage throws up several difficult questions. For example, who do the different branches represent – fruitful believers, unfruitful believers, or unbelievers – and what does it actually mean to abide in Christ? Does it refer to the living union between Christ and His disciples, or to practical fruitfulness that results from constant communion with Him?

The suggestion that unfruitful branches that are taken away (v.2), and withered burnt branches (v.6), are true believers who apostatise, is easily refuted, for this would deny the believer’s eternal security (Jn 10.28,29). More tenable is the proposal that, in view of the first century viticulture practice of "removing the nonfruiting branches from the ground and placing them on the trellis (to) allow the rows of plants to benefit from unhindered aeration", the taking away of unfruitful branches refers to the caring husbandman encouraging fruitfulness in unfruitful Christians. Less plausible, however, is the implication that the burnt branches (v.6) symbolise true believers who because of persistent fruitlessness and sin are removed from this life by God in judgment (1 Cor 11.30). The imagery of "cast…into the fire, and they are burned" describes judgment. The Old Testament used such phraseology for God’s judgment of Israel (Ps 80.16; Ezek 15.5-8), and even the New Testament explains that the quality of every believer’s work "shall be revealed by fire" (1 Cor 3.13). However, believers themselves are never depicted as suffering God’s fiery judgment. Instead, they have been "delivered…from the wrath to come" (1 Thess 1.10). More likely, the burnt branches (v.6) represent false professors who have never experienced a gracious work of God in their hearts.

"Abide" translates the Greek word meno. It occurs 41 times in John’s Gospel, also being translated there as dwellest (1.38), tarry (4.40), endureth (6.27), present (14.25), continue (15.9), and remain (15.11). John’s writings generally explain everything in unqualified terms of black and white, such as light and darkness, life and death; "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God" (1 Jn 3.9). In practice every believer experiences less fruitful seasons, and frequently the sensation of distance from the Lord because of personal failure, yet every true child of God bears fruit. Only false disciples, in the absolute sense, can remain unfruitful. Therefore, I suggest that the unfruitful and burnt branches (vv.2,6) both stand for fake believers such as Judas. Furthermore, "abide" cannot be restricted to either union or communion with Christ, but rather encompasses both, for ideally the one assumes the other. In summary, the true Christian at conversion is vitally and inseparably united to Christ, and through daily obedience to the Word, produces spiritual fruit. Abiding in Christ indicates "unbroken communion with (Him) on the part of the one who through infinite grace has entered into an unchangeable union with Christ". Conversely, unsaved professors, having never truly tasted Christ’s life in them, will eventually manifest this through unfruitfulness. They will finally be taken away by God and suffer the fire of His wrath.

Believers are so closely linked to Christ that they abide in Him, while He simultaneously abides in them (vv.4,5). Our experience of Christ’s joy in us (v.11) will be in the measure that His Word abides in us (v.7), and we obey it (vv.10,14). Therefore, studying and submitting to Scripture is a fundamental aspect of the Christian life. The Saviour kept the Father’s commandments and abode in His love (v.10). Similarly, "the obedient believer will abide in Christ’s love (vv.9,10), and there will be an unhindered inflow of spiritual vitality from Christ which, like the sap of the vine, will result in fruitfulness".

Enduring spiritual fruitfulness is the Christian’s raison d’être (v.16). This fruit stands the test of time (v.16) and is characterised by righteousness (2 Cor 9.10; Phil 1.11; Heb 12.11) and holiness (Rom 6.22). It includes the Spirit produced manifestation of Christ-likeness in the believer (Gal 5.22,23), worship (Heb 13.15), and gospel preaching (Jn 4.35,36; Col 1.6). Never can it be divorced from obedience to God’s Word (v.10) and prayer (vv.7,16). One practical example of this fruit is a self-sacrificial love for the brethren similar to Christ’s (vv.12,13,17; 1 Jn 3.16). Each believer is expected increasingly to produce more fruit (vv.2,5,8).

Persecution (vv.18-25)

"The cosmos world is that system organized by Satan, headed by Satan, and run by Satan, which leaves God out and is rival to Him." In sharp distinction to the church, which radiates love, this Christ rejecting, ignorant (v.21) world hates the Father, the Son (vv.23,24), and all true believers (vv.18,19,20). Make no mistake, "the name of Christ from your mouth will be to them nothing but poison and death". Saints are persecuted (v.20) because they have been called out of this world system (v.19) and indissolubly associated with Christ (vv.18-20). "It is a mark of genuine discipleship if we share the experiences of our Master, encountering the hatred of the World." The world’s loathing of Christ was "without a cause" (v.25), in spite of His flawless witness in both word (v.22) and deed (v.24). In fact "now they have no cloak for their sin" (v.22).

Witnessing (vv.26,27)

The Holy Spirit, who was sent to testify about the Son (v.26), energises Christian witness. In addition to saving sinners (2 Thess 2.13), He supplies divine power (Acts 1.8; 1 Cor 2.4), irresistible wisdom (Acts 6.10), and supernatural guidance (Acts 8.29; 10.19; 16.7) for gospel preachers. The disciples were able to bear witness for Christ "because (they had) been with (Him) from the beginning" (v.27). Fellowship with Christ is an essential prerequisite to effective Christian witness.

To be continued.

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Mar 14, 2011 at 02:58 o\clock

Upper Room Ministry (part 4)

The Upper Room Ministry (John 13-17) (4)

J Gibson, Derby

John 14

Nearing the point of His own tremendous sufferings, the Lord Jesus selflessly comforted the disciples’ troubled hearts. This He did in several ways. For example, He reassured them that although they were soon to be separated it would only be for a season: "I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (v.3). He promised them that, despite His physical absence, they would continue to experience God’s power (v.12), and enjoy answered prayers (vv.13,14). By explaining the Holy Spirit’s ministry, Christ further encouraged His disciples with the prospect of "another Comforter" abiding with them, not now for a limited period only, but "for ever" (v.16). He also, at this time of great crisis, granted them supernatural peace (v.27).

The Rapture (vv.1-11)

The expression "ye believe in God, believe also in me" (v.1) not only reminds us that confidence in God is a great solace for troubled hearts – "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee" (Is 26.3) – but also that the Lord Jesus, as a divine person, is as worthy of our trust as God Himself. Christ’s words are of equal authority to Old Testament Scripture. This phrase also prepared the disciples for the Lord’s departure. Just as they had believed in an "invisible God" (Col 1.15), "whom no man hath seen, nor can see" (1 Tim 6.16), they were to continue to believe in a Saviour soon to be removed from their sight (1 Pet 1.8).

"I will come again, and receive you unto myself" (v.3) does not refer to physical death, but rather introduces the important subject of the rapture; this is further developed in the New Testament epistles (1 Cor 15; 1 Thess 4). Although the word "rapture" does not appear in the Bible, it conveys well the Biblical concept of a future coming of Christ for His church. The Christian’s bright hope of the Lord’s imminent return is meant, among other things, to comfort the mourning (1 Thess 4.18), stimulate service (1 Cor 15.58), and promote holiness (Rom 13.11-14; 1 Jn 3.1-3). When "the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout…the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thess 4.16,17). We will then be transported to specially prepared abiding places in the Father’s house that where He is, there we shall be also (vv.2,3). "And so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess 4.17).

With typical dullness, the disciples misunderstood the Lord’s words. "We know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" (v.5), was their response to "whither I go [the Father’s house] ye know, and the way [Christ Himself] ye know" (v.4). Since the Lord Jesus is exclusively the only way to the Father it was appropriate for the early disciples to be labelled as people "of this way" (Acts 9.2).

God the Father and God the Son are so united as to mutually indwell each other: "I am in the Father, and the Father in me" (vv.10,11). Knowing, seeing and hearing the Son equate to knowing, seeing and hearing the Father (vv.7,9,10). The Lord’s miracles bore witness to this unity (v.11). They cannot be separated from His powerful words, through which they were mostly accomplished, and were always performed in full partnership with and utter dependence upon the Father: "the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works" (v.10). The disciples fell short in their knowledge of God. This is obvious from the Lord’s words: "If ye had known me"; "hast thou not known me" (vv.7,9). However, the Lord Jesus assured them that "(they were) beginning to know the Father from now on"1 (v.7), so starting a life-long journey into the knowledge of God. As the truth, Christ alone fully manifests the Father (Jn 1.18; 14.9; Col 1.15; Heb 1.3).

He is also the sole source of all physical and spiritual life. "Without the way there is no going; without the truth there is no knowing; without the life there is no living."2

Power (vv.12-15)

Apostolic miracles were of a similar nature to the Messiah’s. Just as His miracles had acted as Messianic credentials, so the apostle’s miracles substantiated their message (Heb 2.4). The Lord Jesus not only confirmed that following His departure such signs would continue – "He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also" (v.12; Mk 16.17,18) – but also that they were to be surpassed: "greater works than these shall he do" (v.12). These "greater works" (the conversion of sinners) were more numerous (e.g. 3,000 saved at Pentecost, Acts 2.41) and extensive (e.g. Paul’s widespread missionary journeys) than Christ’s own miracles, which were mostly confined to His immediate vicinity.

Because spiritual power demands effectual prayer, vital instruction concerning prayer is linked to this prediction of "greater works". As implied by the words "whatsoever" and "any thing," it has a limitless potential, for "there is nothing too hard for (the Lord)" (Jer 32.17). The proviso, "in my name" (vv.13,14) cannot be trivialised to a mere attachment at the end of prayers that guarantees answers. Instead, it acts as a narrow restriction to prayers. They should firstly be made by those who believe in (v.12), and lovingly obey (v.15), Christ, and secondly be entirely consistent with the Saviour’s character and will. Up until this time, the disciples had directly asked Christ for everything. In His absence, their prayers were to be addressed to the Father. The ultimate aim of all prayer is "that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (v.13).

The Holy Spirit (vv.16-26)

Just as the Father had sent the Son (Jn 8.16), so also He sent the Holy Spirit in answer to the Son’s prayer (vv.16,26). It can equally be said that the Son sent the Spirit (16.7). Three main aspects of the Spirit’s coming with reference to believers are taught. In the first place, He strengthens them. "Comforter" translates the Greek word parakletos meaning "one called alongside to help".3 It "was used for a legal assistant, pleader, advocate, one who pleads another’s cause",4 and is also translated "helper" (NKJV) or "advocate" (1 Jn 2.1). The Holy Spirit now continues the supportive ministry that Christ carried out on behalf of His disciples. Interestingly, "the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Rom 8.26) on earth, while Christ in heaven "ever liveth to make intercession for (us)" (Heb 7.25).

Secondly, in contrast to His Old Testament activities of temporarily equipping saints for specific tasks (e.g. Judg 15.14), being withdrawn from them because of personal sin (Ps 51.11), and even the Lord’s own physical presence of a few years, the Holy Spirit now permanently indwells Christians (vv.16,17). In so doing He is actually accompanied by Father and Son (vv.18,23). Incredibly, believers are therefore indwelt by the triune God. This enduring intimacy with the Spirit so enjoyed by believers is entirely foreign to the world, "because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him" (v.17). Serious moral implications now exist for believers whose bodies have been transformed into temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6.18-20).

Finally, He comprehensively teaches the saints "all things" relating to God’s truth (v.26), including an understanding, in measure, of the relations within the Godhead (v.20). The apostles specifically were to be reminded of Christ’s own words (v.26), so empowering them to collate authoritatively an accurate historical account of Christ’s earthly ministry.

Christ guaranteed His "little children" (13.33), "I will not leave you orphans, I am coming to you" (14.18, JND). This may apply to His post-resurrection appearances, the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost, Christ’s personal indwelling of believers (v.23), and even the rapture. Let us never forget that our enjoyment of Christ is in the measure to which we obey Him (v.21).

Peace (vv.27-31)

In a world that is full of turmoil, spiritual dangers (17.15), and intense persecution (16.2), the child of God can enjoy supernatural peace (v.27). That their Master was returning to the Father, so ending His period of humiliation, should have delighted those who loved Him (v.28). The Father’s greatness in relation to the Son refers to official status – He sent the Son; the Son obeyed Him – and circumstances – the Son "came down from heaven" (6.38). This prediction of His departure was meant to nurture the disciples’ faith (v.29). Confident of victory, the Lord Jesus explained that these were His last words prior to "the prince of this world" (v.30) coming and fully venting his fury at the cross. Satan had "nothing in (Christ)" (v.30) by way of accusation or appeal. Loving obedience to the Father caused Him to go forth to meet the adversary, for obedience signals true love.

To be continued.

1 Robertson’s Word Pictures cited by e-Sword.
2 Thomas a Kempis cited in Vincent’s Word Studies of the New Testament, 4 vols. (Hendrickson Publishers), 3:241.
3 The MacArthur Study Bible; (Word Publishing, 1997), p. 1614.
4 Robertson’s Word Pictures cited by e-Sword.

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Mar 11, 2011 at 13:49 o\clock

Upper Room Ministry (part 3)

The Upper Room Ministry (John 13-17) (3)

J Gibson, Derby

John 13

In this chapter the Lord Jesus gives an exemplary display of lowly service. He also exposes the traitor, and commands the disciples to love one another.

The Setting (vv.1-3)

The Passover commemorated Israel’s deliverance from Egypt (Ex 12.26-27) and looked forward to Christ’s future suffering (1 Cor 5.7). How could the disciples keep the Passover (Mt 26.17; Mk 14.12; Lk 22.8), when their gathering in the upper room preceded it (Jn 13.1), and the Lord Jesus finally died at Passover time (Jn 18.28)? The simple explanation is that Northern Jews reckoned days from sunrise to sunrise, and Southern Jews from sunset to sunset. This "allowed for the feast to be celebrated legitimately on two adjoining days."1

Christ provided this extraordinary body of teaching, along with His unparalleled example of humility (13.4-15), for the disciples to follow during the period of His absence. This He did in full knowledge of the following:

His love for His own extended "unto the end" (v.1), to Calvary and beyond, for "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it" (Song 8.7).

Service and Sanctification (vv.4-17)

Christ’s lowly act of washing the disciples’ feet was consistent with Palestinian hospitality (Lk 7.44; 1 Tim 5.10), and possibly an adaptation of the traditional Paschal meal where the company head would arise and wash hands3 . To disciples bickering about "which of them should be accounted the greatest" (Lk 22.24-27), it provided an uncomfortable yet pertinent example (Jn 13.15). While pride had prevented them from washing each other’s feet, the Saviour’s humility led Him to perform this menial task. Remarkably, He even washed the heel of Judas, which would soon be lifted up against Him in betrayal (v.18). Peter’s typically adamant spirit – "Thou shalt never wash my feet" (v.8), and impulsiveness – "not my feet only, but also my hands and my head" (v.9), quite likely expressed the awkward embarrassment that all the disciples felt. The practical challenge was plain: "If I therefore, the Lord [who should be obeyed] and the Teacher [who should be listened to], have washed your feet, ye also ought [opheilo, as a debt] to wash one another’s feet" (v.14, JND) in lowly selfless service. "If ye know these things, [as with every Biblical doctrine] happy are ye if ye do them" (v.17).

The Saviour’s actions also carried symbolic significance. In the first place, by laying aside His garments, taking a towel, and girding Himself as a servant (v.4), Christ illustrated His stoop from heaven, a stoop which included veiling the outshining of His divine glory in human flesh (Phil 2.6-8). He came "not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mk 10.45). In the same way, returning to the table signified His subsequent high exaltation (Phil 2.9-11). Secondly, washing the disciples’ feet anticipated the Lord’s present work of cleansing His church "with the washing of water by the word" (Eph 5.26). The two Greek words used for washing in John 13.10 – louo (to bathe) and nipto (to cleanse e.g. hands or feet - differentiate that initial thorough washing from sin experienced at conversion from the need for daily cleansing because of defilement. Thus feet-washing emphasizes the pilgrim character of the Christian life (1 Pet 2.11). An important Old Testament illustration is the distinction made between a priest’s initial consecration, when fully bathed (Ex 29.4; Lev 86), and his daily hand washing to perform priestly duties (Ex 30.19,21). Judas, the false disciple, was never clean (Jn 13.10,11,18). Thirdly, what the Lord Jesus did looked forward to the future kingdom when He will not only sit on a throne and rule, but also continually serve His people (Lk 12.37).

Even though Peter, representing the disciples as a whole, did not value what Christ had just done – "What I do thou knowest not now", he was reassured – "but thou shalt know hereafter" (v.7). Peter’s growth in understanding began at his restoration, when he personally experienced the cleansing administered by Christ’s words (Jn 21.15-19); it was greatly aided with the Spirit’s coming to "guide…into all truth" (Jn 16.13). After further progress made over many years of Christian experience, Peter finally learnt the lesson, and so encouraged fellow believers to "be clothed with humility" (1 Pet 5.5).

The Sop (vv.18-30)

The omniscient Lord foresaw Judas’ treachery. He therefore forewarned His disciples in order to bolster their confidence in His deity as the great unchangeable "I am" (v.19). He also reassured them that Judas’ disloyalty would not diminish His personal authority, nor damage their future ministry: it still remained that "He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me" (v.20). The traitor fulfilled an Old Testament Scripture that originally applied to Ahithophel’s unexpected betrayal of king David. By omitting "in whom I trusted" (Ps 41.9), the Lord Jesus made clear that, although Judas’ unfaithfulness deeply troubled Him (v.21), it was no surprise, for He always "knew who should betray him" (v.11). Christ had patiently provided for Judas (Ps 41.9), granted him the privileged position of treasurer (v.29), and never previously exposed him. Even handing Judas the sop was perhaps a final, kind gesture of appeal to his conscience. It consisted of flesh from the Paschal lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs, and was generally handed to a favoured guest "as a special mark of honour or friendship"4 . But Judas had consistently refused the Lord’s testimony, and instead opened his heart to the prince of darkness who "entered into him" (v.27). Driven on by an insatiable love for money, he finally passed the point of no return: "That thou doest, do quickly" (v.27). "Space for repentance had now passed forever. His doom was sealed"5 . How appropriate, in view of the spiritual darkness of the hour, that outside "it was night" (v.30).

The bewildered disciples displayed the healthy balance of doubting each other capable of such betrayal (v.22), but suspecting themselves: "Lord, is it I" (Mt 26.22). John, who leaned on Jesus’ bosom, with characteristic humility, refrained from even naming himself, or commenting on his love for Christ (Jn 13.23). Intimacy with the Lord leads to genuine modesty. These disciples, who had failed to detect Judas’ insincerity, were equally insensitive to the Lord’s exposure of him, for "no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him" (v.28). Their assumption that Judas should "give something to the poor" (v.29) implies that they habitually provided for the poor, in agreement with "the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20.35).

Satisfaction, Separation and Stumbling (vv.31-38)

The traitor having left, the time reference "Now" (v.31) signalled an abrupt change in atmosphere6 , and looked forward to Calvary, the inevitable consequence of the betrayal. Here God’s holiness and love were fully displayed: "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other" (Ps 85.10). Therefore both God, and the Son of Man (a Messianic title connected to kingdom glory, Dan 7.13), were glorified at the cross. God was so satisfied with Christ’s work that He "straightway" raised Him from the dead and glorified "him in himself" (vv.31,32).7

The tender expression "little children" (teknion, infant) conveyed the Saviour’s affectionate care for the remaining disciples. It made a lasting impression on them, especially John, who, several decades later in his first epistle, addressed fellow believers seven times as "little children". In view of the "little while" till their separation, the Lord Jesus gave this new commandment "to love one another" (vv.33-35). In contrast to Old Testament obligation (Lev 19.18), "love was to be explained with new clearness, enforced by new motives and obligations, illustrated by a new example, and obeyed in a new manner"8 . Self-sacrificing love, as exemplified in Christ, is the true emblem of Christianity.

"Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards" (v.36) referred to Peter’s own martyrdom. Despite this warning, he exclaimed with characteristic bravado: "I will lay down my life for thy sake" (v.37). Self-confident Peter still had to learn of his own insufficiency and tendency to stumble: "The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice" (v.38).

1 The MacArthur Study Bible, Word Publishing, 1997, p.1570.
2 "The devil had full mastery over the heart of the betrayer", Pink A W. Gospel of John, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, p.705).
3 Edersheim A. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Hendrickson Publishers, 1993, p.818.
4 The MacArthur Study Bible, Word Publishing, 1997, p.1612.
5 Pink A W. Gospel of John, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, p.741.
6 "The atmosphere is cleared, and, alone with His disciples, the Lord is free to unfold the secrets of His heart." (Smith H. …the Last Words. An Exposition of John Chapters 13 to 17, Penn: Believers Bookshelf, Inc, p.23).
7 "Christ glorified as a man in the glory is the only adequate answer to His work on the cross". (Smith H. …the Last Words. An Exposition of John Chapters 13 to 17, Penn: Believers Bookshelf, Inc, p.27).
8 Scott, quoted by Pink A W. Gospel of John, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, p 749.

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Mar 9, 2011 at 04:35 o\clock

Upper Room Ministry (parts 1&2)

The Upper Room Ministry (John 13-17) (1)

J Gibson, Derby

Preface

Although "every scripture is divinely inspired, and profitable" (2 Tim 3.16, JND), not every Scripture applies with equal force to the Christian believer. Correct Biblical exposition requires that every passage be examined literally, and in its context. This includes noting the specific time period to which it applies (e.g. church era, tribulation, or millennium), the people for whom it was primarily intended (e.g. Israel or the Church), and significant immediately surrounding events. Once this vital initial step of interpretation has been taken, principles can be extracted, and practically applied to Christians. However, failure to interpret the Bible first of all, and instead jump headlong into application, can throw the whole realm of Biblical understanding into utter confusion.

Following Judas’ departure, the Lord Jesus opened His heart to the remaining eleven disciples. Great changes were soon to take place: Judas would betray the Lord, Peter deny Him, and all the disciples abandon Him. He was to be crucified, buried, rise again, return to heaven, and send the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the upper room ministry aimed at preparing the disciples, who had up till this point enjoyed Christ’s immediate presence, for His departure, and the commencement of something completely new in God’s programme: the church. Uniquely, the listening disciples were simultaneously apostles and representatives of the future church of which they were to be foundational members (Eph 2.20). Certain aspects of this body of teaching could only apply to them as apostles. For example:

"He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also" (Jn 14.12) initially referred to miraculous powers which substantiated the divine origin of their message (Heb 2.4).

"He (the Holy Spirit) shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (14 26).

However, the greater part of it was instructive to the disciples as representatives of the church, and so acts as an introduction to pure church truth, forming the seed plot for New Testament epistle doctrine (see Table 1). The great joy of studying this discourse, a foundation for all Christian life and service, is that its interpretation and application are generally speaking the same process. Practically everything contained in it is to be literally applied to the Christian Church.

Period

Numerous time references, stretching from eternity (Jn 17.5) to eternity (Jn 17.24), are clearly spelled out, or alluded to, in the text (Table 2). The Saviour, having "been so long time" (Jn 14.9) with the disciples, and now knowing "that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father" (Jn 13.1), instructed them concerning their future, and the future of those who would believe on Him "through their word" (17.20). Following the Lord’s death, resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost, a new age would dawn in which believers, personally and permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit, would constitute the church, which is His body. It is to this unique period in the world’s history that the upper room ministry primarily applies.

To be continued.

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The Upper Room Ministry (John 13-17) (2)

J Gibson, Derby

Purpose

The Saviour’s love for His own, even on the verge of such immense personal suffering, prompted this teaching (Jn 13.1), which was primarily intended to prepare them for His departure (Jn 13.1,33; 14.25; 16.4,5). He predicted future events so that when they occurred their evaluation of Him would be increased (e.g. Judas’ betrayal, Jn 13.18-19), their faith nurtured (e.g. His departure, Jn 14.28-29), and they would not be discouraged (e.g. persecution, Jn 16.1). Since the great hallmark of Christianity is love, the Lord Jesus, through His personal example of washing their feet, indelibly etched on their consciences the importance of humbly serving one another (Jn 13). Realizing the human tendency, in times of flux and peril, to be overcome with fear, He comforted their troubled hearts and promised them peace (Jn 14). Since He had both chosen, and ordained them "that (they) should go and bring forth fruit" (Jn 15.16), He unfolded the secrets of spiritual fruitfulness (Jn 15). Chapter 16 develops certain themes previously touched upon in the address, such as the inevitability of persecution (vv.1-6), the Holy Spirit’s ministry (vv.7-15), and Christ’s promised resurrection and return (vv.16-21). All of this instruction however, in itself, could not sustain the believer, and so the Saviour went on to pray for them (Jn 17).

People

Judas had departed. Now, the Lord Jesus spoke to the remaining eleven genuine disciples, not as Israelites, but as His apostles and representatives of the church. Many contrasts exist between New Testament Christians and Old Testament saints. Sadly, failure to grasp the difference between Israel and the church has led to confusion, and thrown into disarray the understanding of Scripture. Consider some differences between Israel and the church that bear on the teaching of this discourse.

First, Christians have a new relationship with God that no other group throughout history has had, nor in the future will have. Regarding the Son, they are "his own" (Jn 13.1); He calls them His "Little children" (Jn 13.33), and they actually abide in Him (Jn 15.4-6), while He, in conjunction with the Father, abides in them (Jn 14.23). Christ is in the believer, and the believer is in Christ. Old Testament saints believed in God (Jn 14.1) and were commanded to love Him wholeheartedly (Deut 6.5), but the church directs its faith to Christ (Jn 14.12), loves Christ (Jn 14.15), and is loved by Him (Jn 13.1). Again, the ultimate role model for New Testament believers is not Old Testament heroes, but the Saviour Himself (Jn 13.15). Saints of all ages may have prayed, but prayer is now directed to the Father in the Son’s name (Jn 14.12-14; 15.7,16; 16.23,24,26). "Since the new ground of prayer provides access to the limitless resources of Him who is infinite, the new appeal which conditions this measureless possibility is important to the last degree, and well it becomes the earnest Christian to enter intelligently and fully into these unbounded provisions."1

The Holy Spirit temporarily came upon Old Testament saints to strengthen for God’s service (e.g. Judg 13.25) but could just as quickly depart from them because of personal failure (Ps 51.11). Now, however, the Spirit permanently indwells each believer, in order to guide "into [the measureless field of] all truth" (Jn 16.13) and to reveal Christ (Jn 15.26; 16.13,14) and the future (Jn 16.13). "By this procedure [the Christian] may make uninterrupted and measureless progress in the knowledge of the truth of God."2

Second, New Testament believers have a new hope. Whereas Israel eagerly awaited a glorious manifestation of Messiah, Christians anticipate being forever with the Lord at His coming (Jn 14.3). Israel’s blessings had an earthly emphasis, being centred in the Promised Land, but the heavenly nature of church saints is taught by the fact that they are not of this world (Jn 17.14) but instead chosen out of it (Jn 15.19). They are destined eternally to share in and enjoy Christ’s glory (Jn 17.24).

Third, the church knows a new unity. Israel’s tribes may have been united by the same family blood, which often resulted in sibling rivalry, but Christian unity is so unique that it is comparable to the essential unity of Father and Son (Jn 17.11, 21-23). The Lord’s Prayer for such unity was answered at Pentecost when we were "all baptized into one body" (1 Cor 12.13). In light of this closeness to other believers, the Saviour commanded His disciples to love one another in the same self-sacrificing manner that He loved them (Jn 13.33-35; 15.12). This stretches far beyond the legal command, "…thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Lev 19.18), and should promote service for one another (Jn 13.12-17).

Fourth, a new code was to govern them. Whereas law was the final touch-stone for Israel’s behaviour, for the church it is rather Christ’s own words, both here (Jn 13.17; 14.15,21,23) and in the New Testament epistles, given under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Fifth, they enjoyed a new revelation. Old Testament law forbade men from looking upon God, but in the Lord Jesus Christ they enjoy a unique revelation: "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (Jn 14.9). They also, as the Saviour’s friends, were privy to His plans and the Father’s words (Jn 15.14,15).

It is no surprise, that such a body of people, while being fruitful for God (Jn 15.4-6), and experiencing perennial and supernatural joy (Jn 15.11; 16.22; 17.13) and peace (Jn 14.1,27), receive a hostile response from a world that hates both God and His Christ (Jn 15.18; 16.2). To be continued.

1 Chafer LS. Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1993) 5:161.
2 Chafer LS. Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1993) 5:156.

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The Upper Room Ministry (John 13-17) (3)

J Gibson, Derby

John 13

In this chapter the Lord Jesus gives an exemplary display of lowly service. He also exposes the traitor, and commands the disciples to love one another.

The Setting (vv.1-3)

The Passover commemorated Israel’s deliverance from Egypt (Ex 12.26-27) and looked forward to Christ’s future suffering (1 Cor 5.7). How could the disciples keep the Passover (Mt 26.17; Mk 14.12; Lk 22.8), when their gathering in the upper room preceded it (Jn 13.1), and the Lord Jesus finally died at Passover time (Jn 18.28)? The simple explanation is that Northern Jews reckoned days from sunrise to sunrise, and Southern Jews from sunset to sunset. This "allowed for the feast to be celebrated legitimately on two adjoining days."1

Christ provided this extraordinary body of teaching, along with His unparalleled example of humility (13.4-15), for the disciples to follow during the period of His absence. This He did in full knowledge of the following:

His love for His own extended "unto the end" (v.1), to Calvary and beyond, for "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it" (Song 8.7).

Service and Sanctification (vv.4-17)

Christ’s lowly act of washing the disciples’ feet was consistent with Palestinian hospitality (Lk 7.44; 1 Tim 5.10), and possibly an adaptation of the traditional Paschal meal where the company head would arise and wash hands3 . To disciples bickering about "which of them should be accounted the greatest" (Lk 22.24-27), it provided an uncomfortable yet pertinent example (Jn 13.15). While pride had prevented them from washing each other’s feet, the Saviour’s humility led Him to perform this menial task. Remarkably, He even washed the heel of Judas, which would soon be lifted up against Him in betrayal (v.18). Peter’s typically adamant spirit – "Thou shalt never wash my feet" (v.8), and impulsiveness – "not my feet only, but also my hands and my head" (v.9), quite likely expressed the awkward embarrassment that all the disciples felt. The practical challenge was plain: "If I therefore, the Lord [who should be obeyed] and the Teacher [who should be listened to], have washed your feet, ye also ought [opheilo, as a debt] to wash one another’s feet" (v.14, JND) in lowly selfless service. "If ye know these things, [as with every Biblical doctrine] happy are ye if ye do them" (v.17).

The Saviour’s actions also carried symbolic significance. In the first place, by laying aside His garments, taking a towel, and girding Himself as a servant (v.4), Christ illustrated His stoop from heaven, a stoop which included veiling the outshining of His divine glory in human flesh (Phil 2.6-8). He came "not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mk 10.45). In the same way, returning to the table signified His subsequent high exaltation (Phil 2.9-11). Secondly, washing the disciples’ feet anticipated the Lord’s present work of cleansing His church "with the washing of water by the word" (Eph 5.26). The two Greek words used for washing in John 13.10 – louo (to bathe) and nipto (to cleanse e.g. hands or feet - differentiate that initial thorough washing from sin experienced at conversion from the need for daily cleansing because of defilement. Thus feet-washing emphasizes the pilgrim character of the Christian life (1 Pet 2.11). An important Old Testament illustration is the distinction made between a priest’s initial consecration, when fully bathed (Ex 29.4; Lev 86), and his daily hand washing to perform priestly duties (Ex 30.19,21). Judas, the false disciple, was never clean (Jn 13.10,11,18). Thirdly, what the Lord Jesus did looked forward to the future kingdom when He will not only sit on a throne and rule, but also continually serve His people (Lk 12.37).

Even though Peter, representing the disciples as a whole, did not value what Christ had just done – "What I do thou knowest not now", he was reassured – "but thou shalt know hereafter" (v.7). Peter’s growth in understanding began at his restoration, when he personally experienced the cleansing administered by Christ’s words (Jn 21.15-19); it was greatly aided with the Spirit’s coming to "guide…into all truth" (Jn 16.13). After further progress made over many years of Christian experience, Peter finally learnt the lesson, and so encouraged fellow believers to "be clothed with humility" (1 Pet 5.5).

The Sop (vv.18-30)

The omniscient Lord foresaw Judas’ treachery. He therefore forewarned His disciples in order to bolster their confidence in His deity as the great unchangeable "I am" (v.19). He also reassured them that Judas’ disloyalty would not diminish His personal authority, nor damage their future ministry: it still remained that "He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me" (v.20). The traitor fulfilled an Old Testament Scripture that originally applied to Ahithophel’s unexpected betrayal of king David. By omitting "in whom I trusted" (Ps 41.9), the Lord Jesus made clear that, although Judas’ unfaithfulness deeply troubled Him (v.21), it was no surprise, for He always "knew who should betray him" (v.11). Christ had patiently provided for Judas (Ps 41.9), granted him the privileged position of treasurer (v.29), and never previously exposed him. Even handing Judas the sop was perhaps a final, kind gesture of appeal to his conscience. It consisted of flesh from the Paschal lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs, and was generally handed to a favoured guest "as a special mark of honour or friendship"4 . But Judas had consistently refused the Lord’s testimony, and instead opened his heart to the prince of darkness who "entered into him" (v.27). Driven on by an insatiable love for money, he finally passed the point of no return: "That thou doest, do quickly" (v.27). "Space for repentance had now passed forever. His doom was sealed"5 . How appropriate, in view of the spiritual darkness of the hour, that outside "it was night" (v.30).

The bewildered disciples displayed the healthy balance of doubting each other capable of such betrayal (v.22), but suspecting themselves: "Lord, is it I" (Mt 26.22). John, who leaned on Jesus’ bosom, with characteristic humility, refrained from even naming himself, or commenting on his love for Christ (Jn 13.23). Intimacy with the Lord leads to genuine modesty. These disciples, who had failed to detect Judas’ insincerity, were equally insensitive to the Lord’s exposure of him, for "no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him" (v.28). Their assumption that Judas should "give something to the poor" (v.29) implies that they habitually provided for the poor, in agreement with "the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20.35).

Satisfaction, Separation and Stumbling (vv.31-38)

The traitor having left, the time reference "Now" (v.31) signalled an abrupt change in atmosphere6 , and looked forward to Calvary, the inevitable consequence of the betrayal. Here God’s holiness and love were fully displayed: "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other" (Ps 85.10). Therefore both God, and the Son of Man (a Messianic title connected to kingdom glory, Dan 7.13), were glorified at the cross. God was so satisfied with Christ’s work that He "straightway" raised Him from the dead and glorified "him in himself" (vv.31,32).7

The tender expression "little children" (teknion, infant) conveyed the Saviour’s affectionate care for the remaining disciples. It made a lasting impression on them, especially John, who, several decades later in his first epistle, addressed fellow believers seven times as "little children". In view of the "little while" till their separation, the Lord Jesus gave this new commandment "to love one another" (vv.33-35). In contrast to Old Testament obligation (Lev 19.18), "love was to be explained with new clearness, enforced by new motives and obligations, illustrated by a new example, and obeyed in a new manner"8 . Self-sacrificing love, as exemplified in Christ, is the true emblem of Christianity.

"Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards" (v.36) referred to Peter’s own martyrdom. Despite this warning, he exclaimed with characteristic bravado: "I will lay down my life for thy sake" (v.37). Self-confident Peter still had to learn of his own insufficiency and tendency to stumble: "The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice" (v.38).

1 The MacArthur Study Bible, Word Publishing, 1997, p.1570.
2 "The devil had full mastery over the heart of the betrayer", Pink A W. Gospel of John, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, p.705).
3 Edersheim A. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Hendrickson Publishers, 1993, p.818.
4 The MacArthur Study Bible, Word Publishing, 1997, p.1612.
5 Pink A W. Gospel of John, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, p.741.
6 "The atmosphere is cleared, and, alone with His disciples, the Lord is free to unfold the secrets of His heart." (Smith H. …the Last Words. An Exposition of John Chapters 13 to 17, Penn: Believers Bookshelf, Inc, p.23).
7 "Christ glorified as a man in the glory is the only adequate answer to His work on the cross". (Smith H. …the Last Words. An Exposition of John Chapters 13 to 17, Penn: Believers Bookshelf, Inc, p.27).
8 Scott, quoted by Pink A W. Gospel of John, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, p 749.

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Mar 6, 2011 at 13:31 o\clock

Christ is all, and in all (part 2)

Christ is all and in all (2)

M C Davis, Leeds

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The message of Colossians

Chapter 2: Christ All-Sufficient

Here Paul deals with the errors facing the Colossian believers and refutes them by asserting the all-sufficiency of Christ alone for salvation and the subsequent Christian life. Just as they had started their Christian lives by faith in Christ alone, so they should continue. Paul was in a spiritual conflict because of them, and longed that they should come to full assurance in understanding the truth about these matters.

He was afraid, first of all, in vv.1-10, lest they should be lead astray by false, but fascinating, philosophies of men, for all worthwhile true wisdom and knowledge is found in the Person of Christ alone, not in man-made philosophies. The whole fullness of God’s attributes and characteristics dwells in Christ as the perfect man in bodily form, and all true believers are fully completed and provided for in Him. No other spiritual authority is above Him, nor needed besides Him.

Second, in vv.11-15 Paul combats the religious legalists who claimed that circumcision and law-keeping were necessary for a full salvation. He states that all that we need has been already accomplished by Christ’s death on the cross, which is the New Testament fulfilment of the truth taught by Old Testament circumcision. All true believers have been identified with Christ crucified at conversion, when the baptism in the Spirit at Pentecost became effective for each one who believes, and also identified with Him in His resurrection. Our water baptism illustrated these truths. We have been united with Christ from the moment of our conversion and need no other ordinances to complete our salvation. The work of Christ on the cross was sufficient to solve completely all our indebtedness to God’s law, to forgive all our trespasses against it, and He triumphed there gloriously over all the spiritual forces of evil that opposed Him and oppose us now. Christ is fully sufficient for all our need.

Third, in vv.16-23, if this is so, we should not let anyone try to impose manmade rules of conduct on us, sitting like an umpire on our lives. The ascetic philosophers did try to do this, making up rules for us about food and bodily disciplines that are not required by God’s Word. The Old Testament dietary laws and ceremonial laws about feast days no longer apply, because Christ has fulfilled the law and superseded it by Himself. Paul also warned them not to worship angels, as if they were necessary intermediaries between God and us. That is to deny Christ His position as the sole and sufficient Head of the Church. Our union with Christ is a living one; we are His body, and draw our life, nourishment, and directions from Him alone. Let us not try to sever the link with our Head in heaven by attempting to interpose any other mediators. Our identification with Christ in death severs us from worldly rules and practices; the latter have no value in producing spiritual life or controlling our old natures. They only produce a carnal religion which is worthless to God. His life in us alone can produce spiritual conduct. Again, Christ is all we need.

Chapter 3: Christ All-Controlling

First, in vv.1-11, Christ is to be our sole motivation in Christian life and conduct. Our identification with Christ in His death and resurrection means that our true life is centred in Him in heaven, not on earth at all. Christ in glory is our incentive for holy living. Only at His appearing in glory will the true reason and value of our present lives become apparent to unbelievers around us. Here we should note that Paul in Colossians views believers as indwelt by Christ, but based firmly on earth, and looking up to Christ in heavenly glory; whereas in Ephesians he views us primarily as in Christ, in the heavenlies, exalted with Christ, and very much involved in all the activities of that heavenly scene. Both views are true of us and equally important to bear in mind. The view here presented means that we are now responsible to put to death by God’s power the sinful tendencies of the members of our earthly bodies, which are subject to the temptations of our old natures; first, the grosser moral temptations, but then also the antisocial sins of anger and lying. We are to take off the habits of our old life like a set of dirty clothes, and to put on the godly habits of our new natures in Christ. In Christ there are no social barriers to harmonious fellowship such as we put up. For He is all and in all; that is, all-controlling in every way. We should note that this truth, in many ways the keynote of the epistle, is in the context of fellowship within the body of Christ.

Second, in vv.12-17, Paul states that the Christian’s life is to be governed completely by the example and word of Christ. Only Christ should be seen in us in all His perfect character of kindness, forgiveness, and especially love. Our fellowship with one another should be governed by the peace of God our Saviour. Our whole lives should be controlled and directed by the word and will of Christ, who indwells us as believers. This should affect our mutual ministry and fellowship in the body of Christ, both in terms of teaching and exhortation, and also in our corporate expressions of worship in song. Christ should control everything we do, and we should do it all with gratitude to God our Father.

Third, in vv.18-4.1, the Christian’s various earthly relationships are also to be governed by the word and will of Christ. These include not only the closest relationships of marriage partners, but also those of children and parents, and of servants and masters, who must both acknowledge that they have in Christ an ultimate Lord and Master in heaven.

Chapter 4: Christ All-Pervading

First, in vv.2-6, Paul gives various exhortations concerning effective Christian communication: first, to continue in prayer, especially for the apostles for preaching opportunities; then to wise and circumspect conduct generally, looking for opportunities to witness; and also to speech that is both gracious and wholesome, especially towards the unsaved around us.

Second, in vv.7-15, there is abundant evidence of Christ pervading the effective ministries of the first-century body of Christ on earth. Here there are many examples of how the members of the body of Christ should function by the exercise of various different gifts in harmonious fellowship. By contrast with the brief salutations in Ephesians 6, here in Colossians 4 Paul speaks at some length about the various activities of his fellow-workers, and their spiritual ministries. This is appropriate in a letter which concentrates on the true relationship between Christ and His Body, the Church. Note the emphasis upon the prefix "fellow", in "fellow-servant", "fellow-prisoner", and "fellow-workers". All these brethren were faithfully fulfilling their spiritual ministries in the local church at Rome, just as we should be in our own local fellowships, using the gifts with which we have been entrusted for the good of the whole body of Christ.

Third, vv.16-18 contain final instructions, a salutation, and a blessing. Paul exhorted the Colossian saints to share fellowship in the reading of this letter with the saints at Laodicea, and to read the letter from Laodicea at Colosse. The latter was possibly the letter to the Ephesians. He then significantly exhorted Philemon’s son, Archippus, to fulfil the ministry given to him by the Lord, presumably because he was neglecting to exercise his gift at Colosse. Note the last occurrence here of the keyword of the letter: fullness/fulfil, for all the members of the local body of Christ are needed to do their part, like the joints and sinews in a human body. Only so can the assembly function and grow to maturity in response to the directions of Christ our Head in heaven. There is every spiritual provision in Him and clear direction in His Word to do so. Are we responding to Him, our risen glorified Head in heaven, in obedience and true devotion?

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Mar 6, 2011 at 13:28 o\clock

Christ is all, and in all (part 1)

Christ is all and in all (1)

M C Davis, Leeds

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The message of Colossians

The doctrine of Christ is of crucial importance in all matters concerning our faith, spiritual character, and practical daily conduct. Error here can rightly lead to loss of Christian fellowship, as 2 John indicates. Our Lord’s own question, "What think ye of Christ?" (Mt 22.42), remains the most important test in every situation. And unless we acknowledge practically the true doctrine of Christ, as it concerns both His person and work, nothing will really be right in our lives.

Now the scope of the true doctrine of Christ must surely include at least the following aspects of His person and work: namely, His absolute deity, His eternal pre-existence as God the Son, His virgin birth, His real humanity in incarnation, His absolute moral perfection and sinlessness, His vicarious and sacrificial death, His literal bodily resurrection and ascension, His Saviourhood as the sole mediator with God, His present high priestly ministry in heaven, His second coming in power and glory, His future and literal millennial reign as the messianic King, and His absolute right and authority to be the judge of all. Those who deny any of these fundamental tenets of the Christian faith are false teachers and are to be shunned.

The Apostle Paul, then, wrote the Epistle to the Colossians to correct various errors concerning Christ’s relationship to God His Father, to creation, to His New Testament people, the church, and to their daily conduct in this world, which certain false teachers had sought to bring into the assembly at Colosse. In particular, he stressed the absolute pre-eminence and all-sufficiency of Christ in answer to the false teaching of the Gnostics that He was only one of many mediators between God and man. Paul deliberately takes up one of their favourite words, "fulness", and asserts that Christ is the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form. As such, Christ is all the believer needs for salvation and the Christian life, and is pre-eminent in every sphere of creation and the church, which is His body. We shall see that the thought of being filled, completeness, fullness, and fulfilment pervades the whole letter from start to finish. Also, the words "all", or "every" occur frequently; in fact, the phrase "Christ is all, and in all" (3.11) is perhaps the keynote of the letter. It emphasises the fact that Christ is all-important and all we need in every way. So that, if we will give Christ His rightful place in our lives, namely, the pre-eminent place, then all will be well; if not, nothing will be.

The aim of these articles is to present the salient points in each successive chapter of the epistle concerning Christ and His relationship to creation and present-day believers in Him, with a view to exalting Him in our worship and conduct.

Chapter 1: Christ All-Pre-eminent

First, in relation to the gospel message (vv.3-11)

The false teaching of the Gnostics had no power to transform lives, unlike the true gospel of Christ. The true gospel, which had evidently been brought to them by their fellow-citizen, Epaphras, rather than the Apostle himself, had borne abundant fruit in the Colossian believers’ lives, producing the godly characteristics of faith, love, and hope. For this fact Paul gives thanks to God, but he proceeds to say that he is praying for them, that they may be filled with, and so controlled by, the full knowledge of God’s will and, in His strength, live worthily of the Lord who had saved them. For there was probably some doubt that they would continue to do so if they listened to the false teachers.

Second, in relation to the truths of redemption (vv.12-14)

God the Father had, in Christ, set the Colossian believers free from the bondage of sin and Satan, and brought them into a new spiritual inheritance of blessing and spiritual light, in a way similar to that in which He had brought His Old Testament people, Israel, out of Egypt into the Promised Land. Believers are now under the gracious rule of the Son of God’s love, redeemed by His precious blood shed for us on the cross, and enjoying complete forgiveness of all our sins. Let us not, therefore, go back into spiritual bondage and darkness by listening to false teaching.

Third, in relation to creation (vv.15-17)

Christ is the "image of the invisible God", that is, the exact representation of God to men as God incarnate. His title, "firstborn of all creation" (JND), means that He is pre-eminent over all creation, not that He is a created being Himself. In Israel the firstborn was not always the first son to be born, but rather the son who had the rights and privileges of the firstborn, as did Joseph over Reuben, and Ephraim over Manasseh. Christ is the creator and architect of all things, the One for whom the universe was created, and the upholder of creation. In fact, Christ is everything in relation to creation, not just a minor part of the great work, as the Gnostics claimed.

Fourth, in relation to the church (vv.18-23)

Christ is the "head of…the church", pre-eminent over it like the head over the body. He is its source of spiritual life (the meaning of "the beginning"), pre-eminent over it in His resurrection, as the first to rise from among the dead. This gives Christ His special place of pre-eminence in all things, creatorial and spiritual. It was God’s good will that all His own fullness, all His attributes and essential characteristics, should come to live permanently in the person of His Son incarnate in perfect human bodily form. The incarnation had the object of achieving reconciliation between God and the whole universe by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, which is the only basis of true peace. We, like the Colossians, have also been reconciled to God on this basis, with the object of our entire sanctification. Continuance in the faith is proof of the reality of our profession of conversion. So Christ is everything in relation to redemption and the church, not just one of the mediators.

Finally, in relation to Paul’s ministry (vv.24-29)

How foolish it would have been for Paul to suffer for a Christ who was not pre-eminent in every way. But Paul rejoiced to suffer for such a wonderful Lord. Paul’s sufferings continued Christ’s sufferings, or rather "afflictions" in His earthly life, not His atoning sufferings on the cross for sin. Paul was suffering as he helped to build up the church, Christ’s body. Paul had a unique ministry, to complete the revelation of God in the Scriptures. This was the truth of the New Testament church, which had not been revealed before the New Testament period. This is one of three New Testament mysteries spoken about in Colossians. The mystery doctrines of the New Testament are truths which had been hidden in Old Testament days in God’s sovereign purposes, but which have now been revealed to believers in Christ. The church as the body and bride of Christ is called a "great mystery" (Eph 5.32), but is very much the subject of Colossians too. Also, in Colossians 2.2 the probably preferable manuscript reading of the text, namely, "the mystery of God, even Christ" (RV), which is followed in other reputable recent versions, indicates that the unique Person of Christ as God incarnate, the fullness of God in bodily form, is also a revealed New Testament mystery. Here in Colossians 1.27 the revealed mystery truth of Christ now actually indwelling the bodies of all the believers in the Colossian assembly is presented as their and our certain hope of future glory like His at His coming for us. Paul’s whole object in preaching, teaching, and warning the Colossians against the errors that they were facing from the Gnostics and other false teachers was the growth of every believer to maturity in Christ. For Christ is all we need, and apart from Christ we are nothing and have nothing worthwhile at all.

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Mar 5, 2011 at 21:01 o\clock

My voice in the morning (Psalm 5)

My voice... in the morning (Ps 5.3)

J Grant

When God determined that time would be marked by days He gave His creation not only sleep to enjoy the night hours, but also the beauty of sunrise to usher in the morning. At that hour His compassions are seen afresh, declaring His faithfulness (Lam 3.22-23), and to those beset by trouble and sorrow it is a reminder that "weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Ps 30.5). David prayed three times per day (Ps 55.17) as did Daniel (Dan 6.10). For them the joy of the presence of the Lord and the liberty that they felt to seek his presence morning, noon, and evening should challenge our hearts. How often do we pray?

Prayer is a difficult discipline to master, but if we follow the example of the morning and evening sacrifices we should, despite the pressures of daily life, seek at least twice daily to lift our voices to heaven. Quite apart from this, we can pray as Nehemiah did when faced with the unexpected. He "prayed to the God of heaven. And…said unto the king" (Neh 2.4-5).

Psalm 5 is a morning prayer, having been preceded in Psalm 4 by an evening prayer. The prayer life of David was marked by confidence. He knew the Lord to be the God who listens (vv.1-7) and the shepherd who leads (vv.8-12). "In the morning will I direct my prayer into thee", he declared, seeking to give the Lord the first part of each day (v.3). The word "direct" is used of the laying in order of the wood (Lev 1.7) and the sacrifice on the altar (Lev 1.8,12). Just as the first priestly act of each day was to place the morning sacrifice upon the altar, so David’s first act was to lift His heart in thankfulness to the Lord. His prayer did not consist of thoughtless expressions used without consideration. This was, in reality, an act of worship as his prayers ascended.

His desire was that the Lord would "give ear", that is, that He would listen to the prayer; that He would "consider", that is, that He would understand and attend to the prayer; that He would "hearken" and respond. Before praying, therefore, he prepared with thoughtful consideration, having in mind that the first responsibility of the morning was to turn with thankfulness to the One who had caused him to rest in safety through the darkened hours. His prayer was an offering given out of a full heart. Although not a priest after the order of Aaron, he could bring his prayer to the Lord with priestly appreciation.

The words that came from his lips (v.2) were also a cry for help and protection. How many have raised such a cry? Beset by anxiety, enemies, and circumstances that have seemed insurmountable they have raised their voices in crying to the Lord to meet their need and overcome their enemies. The prayer was, therefore, marked by anxious supplication. The burden of our troubles may lie heavily upon us, but let that not diminish our desire to raise them before Him.

But it should never be forgotten that David prayed with confidence, stating, "My voice shalt thou hear" (v.3). There was no tremor of doubt in his words, no shadow of uncertainty darkened his heart, no thought of failure clouded his mind. His prayer would be heard as he bowed with earnest expectation that his words would not be lost. The godly need never fear that their pleas are ignored (Heb 5.7). Let us not expect "feelings" that our prayers have been heard. The Word of God makes no such promise, but if we seek godliness and devotion to the Lord there is no need of any "feeling" or "sign". We have His promise that He hears. What need we more!

It must, however, not be missed that his prayer was one of upward contemplation expressed in the words, "I (will) direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up" (v.3). How good and helpful it is to keep "looking up" above "the present distress" (1 Cor 7.26). In "looking" up the prayerful saint is waiting to see what the Lord will do, showing that reliance is on Him alone. Let us, therefore, seek to set aside each morning, no matter how busy, some time, no matter how short, to direct our prayer unto Him so that we also can look up as the duties of the day crowd in, content that all is in His control.

Mar 5, 2011 at 19:19 o\clock

The Secret Place (Psalm 91)

The Secret Place (Ps 91.1)

J Grant

The beginning of another year is a time to take stock. The turmoil gripping the world does not let up. Family and employment pressures make themselves felt. Financial storms have raged; civic unrest is found amongst the nations, terrorism leaves its ugly scar, and the hearts of men at times faint for fear. Believers are not immune from the effects of these forces and may see their hopes banished and their peace of mind attacked. If so, take heart! The Word of God, as always, is the source to which we turn.

The Psalmist, as he wrote Psalm 91, had discovered that when in need of a fortress he found it "in the secret place of the most High under the shadow of the Almighty". This "secret place", of which the world knows nothing, is where the believer can find peace and satisfaction, that which is vital in a turbulent age. To be alone with Him and also enjoy His presence and sustaining grace throughout a day is privilege indeed.

Those who dwell there enjoy the "shadow of the Almighty". This is a place where the people of God can come aside, into the shadow, quite apart from the heat and pressure of events. It is a place in which to enjoy the cool, invigorating atmosphere of His presence, calmed under the caress of heavenly breezes. Truly the "shadow of the Almighty" is a place of refreshment.

But note the One who calls us to enjoy His shadow. Four things are said of Him in the two opening verses of the Psalm. First, He is the "most High", the supreme ruler, the sovereign God, who sits high above all the storms of earth, with no circumstance beyond His control. In Genesis 14 the reader is introduced to Melchizedek, king of Salem, who was the priest of the most high God" (v.18). How remarkable that such a divine title is first found here, a chapter dealing with warfare and disturbance, reminding the reader that "the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsover he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men" (Dan 4.17). This knowledge, not possessed by most of the rulers of this world, is revealed to His own.

Second, He is also "the Almighty" so that not only is He above all powers of earth, no power can withstand Him. When God revealed Himself to Abraham as "the Almighty God" (Gen 17.1), after the period of silence that followed the birth of Ishmael, He was teaching Abraham that no scheming or planning can alter His purpose and that, despite our sin, His way will triumph.

Third, He is Jehovah, the God of the covenant, the God of grace who desires the presence and fellowship of His people. That we should desire to be with Him in His secret place is a delight to Him, far greater than we in our frailty can understand.

Fourth, the Psalmist declares that He is "my God". That He who is so great is "my God" is precious to the faithful soul. He personally cares for each of us; that is wealth beyond human measure. What more can be said of this - simply that under His shadow is a place of refuge.

The Hebrew for the AV translation "he that dwelleth" uses a verb meaning "to sit, to dwell, to inhabit, to endure, to stay. Apparently, to sit is the root idea, and other meanings are derived from this".1 For the believer this is the place to sit: it is a place of rest. There is also the thought that this need not be a temporary state, for the believer should inhabit this place in His shadow.

What a joy it would be to cultivate the habit of being in His presence, in that secret place, where we can enjoy such bounty, not just for a few minutes daily, but continually. There we will have Him as our shelter from all that is around. There He will be our fortress, preserving us from the attacks of our adversary. There we will be able to state, "…in him will I trust". To trust is to be confident. It expresses the feeling of safety and security that is felt when we can rely fully on another. Our God is completely reliable. Let that be our confidence in all the days ahead in His will as we seek to dwell in the secret place, under the shadow of the Almighty.

Dec 12, 2010 at 04:22 o\clock

Enough ?

My brethren, the reason why you have not got contentment in the things of the world is not because you have not got enough of them - that is not the reason - but the reason is, because they are not things
proportionable to that immortal soul of yours that is capable of God
Himself. --Jeremiah Burroughs

Whatsoever we have over-loved, idolized, and leaned upon, God has from time to time broken it, and made us to see the vanity of it; so that we find the readiest course to be rid of our comforts is to set our hearts inordinately upon them. - John Flavel

How shall I depend on Him for raising my body from the dust; and saving my soul at last; if I distrust Him for a crust of bread, towards my preservation. --Joseph Hall

As God did not at first choose you because you were high, so He will not forsake you because you are low. --John Flavel

whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then
vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that." -- James 4:14-15

"Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' "For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. -- Mt 6:30-33

Nov 27, 2010 at 18:13 o\clock

Almighty friend !

Our Almighty Friend!

(Mary Winslow, "Words of Loving Counsel and Sympathy")

"Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Hebrews 4:16

The Lord knows what we require every step we take through this poor, trying, wilderness world--and stands ready to supply our needs, small and great. He is concerned in all that concerns us. Let it be our daily habit to cast our care upon Him--who cares for us.

We must be growing in a better acquaintance with our own souls--as poor and needy; and with Christ--who is all and everything to us. For in Him all fullness dwells--and that fullness is for us! He is our rich storehouse. We need only to go and tell Him--and His heart is open to us in a moment. Let us live upon Him--and go to Him constantly! He is our Almighty Friend!

Could we look into His heart, and see how precious we were to Him, and how truly He is near to us, watching over us, directing all things for our good and His glory--how would our present grievances vanish from our minds, as we sit as beloved children at the feet of Jesus.