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Paul's Message for Today by J R Miller
J. R. Miller, 1904
of the Gospel (Romans 1:8-17)
Redemption in Christ (Romans 3:19-26)
Christian Living (Romans 12:1-15)
Paul on Self-Denial (Romans 14:10-21)
Paul's Preaching (1 Corinthians 1:17-31)
Christian Self-Restraint (1 Corinthians 9:19-27)
Abounding Grace (2 Corinthians 9:1-11)
Paul's Own Story of His Life (2 Corinthians 11:22-12:10)
Christian Liberty (Galatians 4:1-6)
Saved by Grace (Ephesians 2:1-10)
Cheerful Counsel for Christians (Philippians 4:1-13)
Working and Waiting for Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:9-5:2)
Christian Essentials (1 Thessalonians 5:12-24)
Paul's Advice to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:1-7, 3:14-17)
Paul's Last Words (2 Timothy 6:1-18)
The Power of the Gospel
The Epistle to the Romans was written from Corinth by an amanuensis named Tertius, at Paul's dictation. It was sent by Phoebe, a deaconess, who was journeying to Rome. The Christians at Rome were Jews and Gentiles, the latter predominating. It is not known who first preached the gospel at Rome—but it is probable that after the day of Pentecost, some of the Christians went to the imperial capital and set up the first church there. It is evident from chapter 25, that many of the members at that time at Rome, were Paul's personal friends. Paul had not visited Rome, when he wrote this letter.
One of the first things Paul said in his letter to the Romans was, "I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you." It is a good thing when we can thank God, for people. It shows that they are a comfort to us. We are not ashamed of them. They are not a burden or a perplexity to us. Some people are. There often are Church members for whom the minister cannot give thanks. They do not live so as to honor God and adorn the Church. Are we living so that our friends, our teachers and pastors and others—can give thanks for us and for our noble, beautiful life?
The reason for Paul's thanksgiving was stated, "Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world." It was not their wealth, their power, their fine talents, their large business, their beautiful homes, their princely entertainments, which were proclaimed everywhere. There are people living now who are known the world over as millionaires, as great merchants, as brilliant statesmen, as eloquent orators, as owners of railroads. This is one kind of fame. This is the fame many people seek to win, ofttimes selling even their own souls to win it! But there are others in our own day whose faith is known everywhere. There are missionaries, or godly pastors, or men and women who have given up their lives to the service of Christ—and are so blessing the world by their ministry, that far and near their names are spoken with love and reverence. This is by far the worthier fame.
The depth of Paul's affection for the Romans, was further indicated by this assurance, "God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times." It is a sweet thing when one who lives near the heart of Christ, speaks our name before God in his prayers.
It is a sweet privilege to have our names mentioned to Christ. Paul unceasingly made mention to God of the names of his friends. There are many of us whose names are daily spoken to God. The other day I learned that a little girl in my parish, never says her prayers without praying for me. It filled me with a strange awe to know this. Few are the children in true homes, whose names are not unceasingly mentioned in prayer.
It was Paul's prayer that he might "have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come" to the Romans. His request was granted—but it was in a strange way. He went to Rome by and by—but it was as a prisoner in chains. We do not know what we are asking in our prayers. Yet God's way is better than ours. Paul would not have chosen to go to Rome as he went—but he went really in the best way. He was taken there under the protection of the Roman Government. His going cost him nothing—Rome carried him there, a missionary to tell the story of Christ. As a prisoner he was enabled to preach in the very capital, winning disciples in the very palace of the Caesars. God answers our prayers, in the way that is best.
The desire to be with the Romans was absolutely unselfish. He wrote, "I long to see you—that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift." This is a noble yearning for friendship. We ought always to desire to be a blessing to those we love. God sends many of his best spiritual gifts—through human hearts and lips and hands. There could be no fitter morning prayer, as we go out for the day, than that we may be permitted to carry some help, some comfort, some instruction, some inspiration, some courage or cheer—to every life that our life touches. There are always those who need such help, and no aim in life is nobler than to be a help to others in all gentle, quiet ways.
Paul realized that the Roman Christians would help him—as well as receive help from him. His explanation of his desire to be with them shows this. "That you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith."
I may need comfort as much as you do—but the best way to find it is to seek to become helpful to you. Being a blessing to you—blesses me. The attitude of true faith and love toward others, should always be that of desire to help, "not to be ministered unto—but to minister." Then all that we do for others—will bring back its reflex comfort to ourselves. "It is more blessed to give—than to receive." Some people are always wishing for "friends," wishing "to be loved," wishing to have others do things for them. This is not the way to begin—it is the selfish way. The true desire is to love others, to do for others, to become a friend to others. In cherishing this spirit, we get close to Christ; for that is the way he feels. Then it is the direct way to get the other blessing, the love of friends.
Some men are never willing to own indebtedness to others. Paul was not one of these. He said, "I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise." "Debtor!" What does that mean? That I owe something, that I am in debt. "In debt!" To whom? To my friends, who have done so much for me—my father and mother, my teachers, my physician, who so tenderly cared for me in my illness and brought me through? Yes; there are a great many people to whom we are all in debt. They have done us some favor, brought some blessing or good to our life.
You read a book that helps you by its thoughts; you are in debt to the author. A friend, by wise, loving counsel, guides you through some perplexity. Another helps you in some difficulty. Another blesses you with sympathy when you are in sorrow. You are in debt to all these. Yes—but Paul meant more than that.
He was a debtor to people who had never done anything for him. He was a debtor to barbarians, to the ignorant, to his enemies, to everybody. As a man, he owed a debt of love to every other man. As a Christian, his debt was still greater, for he had something which had been given him in trust—the blessing of divine love and grace—which was his not to keep all to himself but to pass on. We are all in debt.
Elsewhere Paul says that we should owe no man anything but love; this is a debt we never get paid off. It would change our feeling toward people, if we remembered always—that we are debtors to everybody. We owe every man, woman and child: kindness, service, helpfulness, comfort in sorrow, sympathy in trial, strength in weakness. We owe to all who are not saved—the revealing of God's love. We are debtor to the Chinese, the Africans, the Hindus; we have the gospel and are under obligation to send it to them. Having obliges us to give, to share, to do for other.
Paul would give and receive blessing—by preaching Christ. Some thought it would have been the part of wisdom to say nothing of Christ—but he would not keep it silent. His reason was, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ." Some people are ashamed of the gospel. They profess to be Christians—but they have not courage to confess Christ out in the world. It is easy to confess him at the communion table, or in the Christian meeting, where everybody is Christ's friend, and where all are confessing him. But it is not so easy to confess him in the shop or office—where you are the only one who loves Christ, and where you must meet a chill and adverse response.
But the Christian should never anywhere be ashamed of Christ. The fewer Christians there are in the place or company, the more reason is there for the few to by loyal and courageous for him. Miss Havergal tells of going into a boarding school as a pupil just after she was saved. She was young and gentle-hearted and was startled to find that in a school family of a hundred, she was the only Christian. Her first feeling was that she could not avow her love for Christ in such a place, with all that company of worldly girls around her. But her second thought was that she could not but avow it, since she was the only one Christ had there to confess him and represent him. This thought was most strengthening, and from that hour she quietly but firmly took her place in the school, as a friend of Christ. It ought to help us, whenever we stand amid enemies of Christ and those ignorant of his love—to remember that he has put us there to represent him, and that if we are ashamed or afraid, we shall be sadly failing him and disappointing him.
The reason for Paul's glory in the gospel, was clearly stated, "It is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes."
People like power. The gospel has power. We need only to look at its effects in the world—to see that this is true. It has wrought great moral revolutions. It has changed nations.
The gospel has transformed countries from scenes of savage barbarism, into places of moral beauty. We have all seen the results wrought by the power of the gospel in lives, in homes, in communities. Those who truly receive the gospel, experience its power in themselves, in the changing of their nature. Those who take the gospel and use it to help others, use an influence greater than any of earth's power, with which they can bless and help and comfort and uplift and save others. It is the power of God. It is God himself working in men's lives!
After a trial and conviction, before the judge utters the sentence, he asks the prisoner if he has anything to say, why sentence should not be pronounced upon him. So every human soul is tried at the bar of divine law and convicted and stands speechless. "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God." No one can claim to have kept the law, without ever breaking it. We have but to read this chapter from the beginning, to see where we all stand. We are all guilty before God. The man without the wedding garment, when he stood before the host, was speechless. He had no excuse to offer for his lack of proper dress. He was guilty and could not say a word in extenuation of his guilt. So do men stand before the divine law. They are dressed only in rags; they have not on a wedding garment. They are speechless, too, when accused, for the garment was provided for them and offered to them—and they rejected it!
Some people imagine that their morality is enough to save them. They do not know what they are saying. Paul said, "By the deeds of the law, there shall no flesh be justified in his sight." As well hope to climb to the stars by going up the tallest mountain, as to gain heaven by the best moralities! Moralities are only a few tinseled garments, put on a dead body! No man can live well enough to merit salvation. No one can live without sin, and wherever there is sin, even the least, the law is broken and its penalties are incurred. "The wages of sin—is death."
There have been some very holy people in this world, who have lived very close to God in faithful obedience and loving service; but there never has been one who was received into heaven on the ground of his own good works. The law of God is so broad and deep, extending not only to acts and words—but to thoughts, motives, feelings and affections, that is utterly impossible for any sinful being fully and perfectly to meet all its demands. If this verse were the last word of the Bible; if the book of inspiration revealed to us only the law and our sinfulness, inability and guilt, declaring that by our own works none of us ever can be justified in God's sight—it would be a dark and terrible finality. But thank God, this is not the last word. We are not left without hope.
A Christian left a Bible in a godless home. As the man and his wife sat together in the evenings, the man took up the book, and reading in it began to feel its power. "If this book is true," he said one evening to his wife, "then we are wrong!" He read more, and a few evenings after said again, with deep concern and alarm, "If this book is true—then we are lost." He read still further, and through the darkness the light began to break, as he caught a glimpse of the cross and the Savior, and at last he said to his wife with glowing joy, "If this book is true—then we may be saved." That is the story always of the work of grace in the heart. First there is the law-work, which shows us our guilt and hopelessness in ourselves. Then the gospel comes, showing us salvation and life.
Verse 20 is not the last word of inspiration; this verse comes after with its blessed revelation of mercy: "But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets." We have no righteousness of our own—but God has provided for us righteousness. No flesh can be justified in his sight by the works of the law—but there is a way of justification which is not dependent on our obedience.
And all must take this way—if they would be justified. "There is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." That seems a strange teaching. Surely there is a difference between the cultured moralist and the profligate sinner. Yes, in a way. The moralist is not so repulsive to us—but perhaps his sins are as bad in God's sight as the profligate sinner. But in another sense there is no difference. Both men are sinners. Neither is able to save himself. "All have sinned." There are degrees of sinfulness, yet all "come short of the glory of God." Sin means missing the mark. Whether one misses the mark by an inch or a foot; whether one comes short of the goal one foot or one mile—it matters little. Both "come short," and so cannot be saved by their own works. Let us not lose the solemn teaching, that there is no difference in sinners so far as getting along without Christ is concerned. We all need Christ must have Christ—or we shall perish eternally!
No one can be justified by his own works, yet there is a way of justification whereby a sinner may appear before God as if he had never sinned, and as if he had faithfully performed every duty. It is by grace that this is possible. "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." That is our justification. It is only an act of mercy on God's part. It is not something we can claim or demand—but something that is given out of the great love and kindness of the Lord. Yet we must not think that this justifying of sinners costs no one anything. It is not merely an act of clemency on the part of the great Ruler of the universe. While we enjoy the blessings of civil and religious liberty, we should remember what these blessings cost our forefathers in hardship, toil, blood and money. And while we rest secure in the hope of forgiven sins—we should never forget that these blessings all come to us "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" and what they cost him!
Nothing is clearer in the bible—than that it was by his death, Christ redeemed his people! "God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins—and to satisfy God's anger against us." His teachings were important; his words are the seeds of the world's life. His example was important; he lived out a perfect human life to show us how to live. His daily obedience all his thirty-three years was important; he kept the law and fulfilled all righteousness. But after all—it was in dying that he wrought the great act of redemption through which salvation comes to sinners.
"Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." There is a reference here, no doubt, to his expiatory sacrifice. Then Christ's own words assert the same. "The Son of man came . . . to give his life a ransom for many." "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you, which is shed for many unto the remission of sins." He died: the just for the unjust, the holy for the sinner. That great act on Calvary was the expiation of our sins. Our justification comes through it. All our hopes spring out of the darkness of those hours!
Paul's philosophy of Christian living, is compactly stated in these fifteen verses.
"I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God; which is your reasonable service." God wants us to be his. We are his by actual right. "All souls are mine." By the right of creation we belong to him; he made us.
"You are not your own; for you are bought with a price." By the right of redemption also we are his; he purchased us with his own blood. Yet God wants us to give ourselves to him. Indeed we are not his at all in the true sense—until we have done this. We hold our life in our own hands—until we voluntarily surrender it to him.
We must "offer our bodies as living sacrifices" to God. We must renounce all our own right and claim—and give them to God to be his utterly and forever. We must notice that it is our "bodies" we are to present to God. That means that he is to be Lord of our whole life. Our hands are to be given to him—to do all they do for him. Our feet we are to give to him—to walk only for him. If we have presented our bodies to God, they must be well cared for, and they must be kept clean and holy. It is a "living" sacrifice we are to make. We are not to slay or crush our bodily powers—but are to make them God's for obedience, for his use and service.
"Which is your reasonable service." A Christian man had been speaking to a congregation and had quoted this verse, urging those whom he addressed, to present their bodies to God as a living sacrifice. When he closed his address, a good friend, who sat beside him, said, "John, the next time you quotes that verse, you would better quote all of it." "Didn't I quote it all?" "No—you left off the last words, 'which is your reasonable service.' That is very important." He was right. We would better quote the whole verse.
It is not an unreasonable thing that God asks us to do—when he beseeches us to present ourselves to him as a living sacrifice. We may think of our relation to God. He is our father—and we are his children. Is it unreasonable that a child shall be asked to do a father's will? We may think of all God's goodness and kindness to us, the countless mercies and favors he bestows upon us. We may think of our redemption and remember at what tremendous cost God bought us—and then of all the blessings and hopes that are ours through his sacrifice for us. Is it unreasonable that we should be asked to consecrate our lives to God when he has done such things for us?
We may think of what will be the result—if we do not yield ourselves to God—that our lives will be lost in sin's darkness and death. We may think of the good that will come to us through devoting ourselves to him—eternal life, eternal blessedness. Is it then unreasonable that we should be called to make this presentation of ourselves to God?
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." We are not of this world—if we are Christians. We belong to the kingdom of heaven. We ought never to forget this. It is very easy for us, being in the world—to become of it, to let our lives grow like the world. But this is not the way to make ourselves a living sacrifice to God.
Some Christian professors have the impression that they can do more good; have more influence over those who are not Christians, if they will not be too strict in their lives, if they will meet them half way. But this is a great mistake! We can never impress the world—by agreeing with it. "It is not conformity that we need," says Dr. Bushnell, "but it is to stand apart and above it, and to produce the impression of a holy and separate life. This only is safety and success."
Instead then of conforming to the world, taking the world's color, our duty is to seek to be transformed into the heavenly life. This word "transformed" means to be transfigured, that is, to become bright and shining in our life. The secret of it is given here in the words "by the renewing of your mind." The candle is to be lighted within our heart—that its beams may shine out through our life, making it glow. The meaning is, that our character shall become like the character of Christ in its beauty, its purity, its spirit.
"I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment." That is a needed lesson always. Many of us are in danger of making this mistake. We think we are better than we are. We want higher places than we are qualified to fill. We are taught not to overestimate our powers and gifts.
But neither are we to think too poorly of ourselves. Some people undervalue their ability. To think soberly, is to think the truth about ourselves. It is to look at our life reverently as a gift of God, as something God has made and given to us to care for and use and then to answer for. We are responsible for making the most of our talent, if we have but one; or whether few or many. It is sacrilege of the saddest kind—not to think soberly about our life. Whether lowly or great, it is a holy trust for which we must give account.
"In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others." Romans 12:5. The illustration of the body is very suggestive. We are all members of one body—but the members are not all alike. Each has its own function. Each is important in its place. Each is essential. The losing of one member, maims the body.
There is a difference in the apparent prominence of the members. Some are always seen; others are obscure and do their part out of sight. But the obscure member who does nothing that every attracts attention, is just as important and honors God and blesses his fellow men—just as much as the conspicuous member who is always in the gaze of men.
"We have different gifts, according to the grace given us." There are reasons why our gifts should differ. Suppose that all the people in the United States were poets, what would we do with so much poetry? Who would attend to the business, the commerce, the farming, the factories and mills? Differing gifts ensure a hand for every task, the smallest as well as the largest duties. There are a thousand different things to do—and there is somebody to do each thing.
"If a man's gift is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully."
Let everyone attend to his own gift; do the thing he is fitted to do, called to do, set to do. Then let each one give his whole energy to the thing he does. The words are very suggestive—we are to give ourselves to our own particular work—and do our best in it. It is like another of Paul's words, "This one thing I do."
Oliver Wendell Holmes says that the human race is divided into two classes: those who go ahead and do something; and those who sit still and inquire, "Why wasn't it done the other way?" Most people belong to the second class.
"If a man's gift is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously." Some people give grudgingly. They do not want to give away anything, and whatever benefactions they do bestow—are always dragged out of them. They give in a bad spirit, which destroys all the beauty of their charity. But that is not the way God wants his children to give. He would have them give liberally, that is as generously as they are able to give. He would have them give lovingly, cheerfully. "God loves a cheerful giver," Paul elsewhere says, and the literal meaning is, "God loves a hilarious giver!" We need to think of this.
"Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good." It is well to be intensely earnest in our moral sentiments and feelings. Some people are altogether too mild, both in their hatred of sin and their love for what is good and right. We are forbidden to hate wicked people—but we are to hate wickedness. God hates everything that is sinful, and if we would be like him—we must do the same. Too many of us are very tolerant of wrong things, especially in ourselves. We ought to keep our moral sense so keen that we shall always hate whatever is not strictly right.
"Be devoted to one another in brotherly love." We are too cold in our love for each other. There is something wondrously beautiful in the way Jesus loved his disciples and friends. Not only did he love them—but he let them know that he loved them. He spoke to them of his tender interest in them—and showed it, too, in many sweet and gentle ways. His command to his friends was that they should love one another—as he had loved them. We have more love for each other than we express. We seem to be afraid to show our love. The words "kindly affectioned" do not suggest the cold reserve that is so common.
"Honor one another above yourselves." That is not easy. We like to claim first place for ourselves. We do not like to sink ourselves out of sight when we have been doing something good or beautiful, and quietly allow some other one to carry off the honor. It is in associated Christian work that this lesson has its special application.
"Bless those who persecute you." That is a hard lesson. We like to pay debts of this kind with the same sort of coin we have received. Or at best we would drop the matter and not pay at all. If anyone wrongs us—we do not want to have anything more to do with him. But neither of these treatments is what this lesson teaches. We are not to return injury for injury. Nor are we to return nothing for injury. We must pay the debt—but we must pay it with love. We must "get even" with our enemy. And the only payment that will settle the account—is love.
"Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." Strange to say, the first of these counsels is harder to follow than the second. It is easier to weep with those who weep—than it is to rejoice with those who rejoice. When one is in sorrow, all one's friends are touched with sympathy, and many seek ways to express their feelings. But when one is in special joy there is not the same sympathy. One does not require help when specially glad and happy—as when suffering. Yet it is well for us to mark the lesson. It is a close test of character—this being able to be glad because our friend is prospered, even though we do not have prosperity of our own at the time.
We are not done with life as we live it; we shall meet it again, every act of it. We are not answerable to men. But we must never forget that there is One to whom we are all answerable. "Everyone of us shall give account of himself to God." The only true way to live, therefore, is to keep God always before us, and do each thing we do to please him. We have not to answer for other people—but neither can other people answer for us.
"Let us not therefore judge one another any more." It is God alone to whom all men are responsible. Of course, if a man lies, or steals, or gets drunk, or forges another's name, or beats his wife—it is not to be expected that nobody shall blame him. But there is a vast amount of fault-finding, condemning and criticism that has to do with things of mere indifference in a moral way—people's manners, their personal habits, their dress, their way of living, their private affairs.
"Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way." That is, we are to watch ourselves, not our brother. Instead of keeping our eye ever on others, looking for faults and mistakes in them—we are to look to our own example lest something we do may hurt their lives, or cause them to do wrong. If everyone would do this—it would go far toward making a paradise of this world of thorns and briers.
We dash at our neighbor's eye to pull out some little mote we imagine we see in it—while at the same time we have a great beam in our own eye which sadly disfigures us and is a reproach to us in the sight of others. The habit of judging and condemning others, for example, is usually a great deal more serious blemish than any of the things we so glibly point out as flaws or faults. The first duty of every Christian—is to make sure that he lays no stumbling blocks in other's way. The other day a prominent Christian man said, "I am very fond of wine and I believe I could drink moderately without danger to myself—but I never touch any kind of wine. I might set the example for some who could not drink moderately without becoming drunkards. My liberty would thus become a stumbling block to others."
"If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love." Love is always to be the law of life. Love must decide all questions. We may exercise our liberty to almost any extent—but it must never be so exercised that it will hurt our neighbor.
If a man is fond of dogs there would seem to be no restriction on his having his home and his grounds full of dogs, provided his neighbors are not annoyed by them. But he must think of his neighbors and restrain his fondness for dogs within the limits of the law of love—the golden rule, we will say.
Paul is talking of eating meat that had first been carried to an idol temple and then sold. He knew that the meat was not hurt by this bit of superstition, and he could eat it freely. But some weak people thought the meat had been defiled and that it was a sin to eat it. "Better give up your meat," said Paul to the strong Christians, "than grieve your weak brethren." It is liberty to eat, regardless of your brother's feeling; but it is love to deny yourself for his sake. There are other people, and we must always think of them in living our own life. It is astonishing, too, how thinking of them by the rule of love will cut into our plans for ourselves.
"Do not by your eating, destroy your brother for whom Christ died." A little selfish indulgence is poor compensation for a hurt to a human soul. Since Christ thought souls valuable enough to die for them, we should have enough regard for them to lead us to make so slight a sacrifice as doing without certain kinds of meat.
"Let not then your good be evil spoken of." There are many ways in which people's good is evil spoken of. Some good men have strange habits that bring them into ridicule and prevent them from being useful. Some excellent women, with kind hearts, spoil all their charity by unfortunate blemishes of speech or manner, which make their good to be evil spoken of, and which destroy its influence. "As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor."
"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." It matters not whether a man eats meat or eats no meat, so far as his relation to Christ is concerned. One may be a meat-eater and get to heaven—just as readily as one who is a vegetarian. The same is true of dress; one may be just as holy in camel's hair garments—as in purple robes. But there are vital things—things one must have to be in the heavenly kingdom. Among them are "righteousness, and peace, and joy." There are a great many things we do not need to have to get to heaven. But there are things we must do if we would be God's children. We must be righteous. We must have some measure at least of the peace of God. And we must have joy in the Holy Spirit.
"Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things with which one may edify another." One of our Lord's beatitudes is, "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." A verse in another chapter in Romans reads, "If it is possible, so far as it depends on you—live peaceably with all men." We ought not to be quarrelsome. The special meaning here is that we ought to deny ourselves things we like—if our indulgence in them will stir up bitter feelings. The second lesson is in the same line. We are to do only the things that edify our build up the life and character of others—that is, things that will make them better, that will add to the beauty of their life, that will strengthen them, cheer, encourage, inspire and stimulate them to ever nobler things.
"It is good neither to eat meat, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby your brother stumbles." This is the summing up of the whole lesson. Anything of the nature of mere indulgence, which would harm another or endanger him—should surely be given up.
Some time ago, there was a terrific explosion in a coal-mine, by which four hundred miners were suddenly hurled amid shattered ruins into a horrible death. The explosion was caused by a miner who had opened his safety lamp to light his pipe. For the poor gratification of his taste for a smoke, this wretched man sent four hundred of his fellows into eternity! Just so, there are men who, for the privilege of sipping their wine, are making ruin in their homes and sending other souls to degradation and death. Is this right?
1 Corinthians 1:17-31
The First Epistle to the Corinthians was written from Ephesus in the spring of A.D. 57. The apostle had heard that dissensions were troubling the church at Corinth, and he wrote to them giving many exhortations and commands. Early in the letter he stated his conception of his mission, "Christ sent me to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect." As if one should prepare a fountain of pure, fresh water by a great highway, to give drink to the weary pilgrims who pass by—but should plant so many lovely trees and flowers about the fountain as to hide it from the eyes of those whom it was designed to refresh. That is the danger when men use the wisdom of this world in preaching the gospel; the perishing ones who listen are too often charmed by the beautiful flowers of rhetoric or poetry or science with which the cross is ornamented, and fail to see the cross itself!
The story is familiar of the artist who had painted his picture of the Last Supper, and then called his friends to look at it. He had tried to make the Master's face the central object of attraction, and was pained to hear his friends praise this and that subordinate feature in the picture, while they did not speak of the Blessed Face. Taking his brush he erased from the canvas the features that had won the beholders, that nothing might keep any eye from the Savior himself. Those of us who teach and preach need to learn this lesson well, lest in our desire to make our lessons and sermons attractive, we hide the Redeemer and the cross which we desire all to see.
"The preaching of the cross is to those who perish, foolishness." There is nothing grand or noble about this way of salvation, to proud human wisdom. In the gospel, men have no chance to display their own power or wealth or skill. If heaven could be gotten by philosophical or scientific research, or won in battle by brave deeds, or achieved by power, or bought with money—the world would have been far readier to accept it. The very simplicity of the gospel makes it appear foolishness to the world's wise men; then its ignominy adds to the impression.
What makes it all the sadder, is that it is to perishing souls, the cross seems foolishness. If it were to some unfallen race, it would not matter so much; but here it leads the lost to reject the only way of salvation that ever has been or will be offered to them. It is as if starving men were to refuse bread, because it was not offered in dainty forms on delicate plates; or, as if drowning men were to reject rescue, because the lifeboat was not decorated in an artistic way, or was rowed by rough, weather beaten sailors, and not by kid-gloved gentlemen. Surely the "foolishness" is not in the gospel—but in the rejecters.
"But unto us who are saved—it is the power of God" Naaman first scorned the idea of washing in Jordan to be healed of leprosy; it was foolishness to him. Afterwards, however, he found this washing "the power of God"—that is, being God's appointed way, God used it to work a cure. The sprinkling of a lamb's blood on the doorpost seemed a foolish thing to do, yet it was God's way, and it became the power of God in saving from death the first born of a nation.
The gospel way of salvation seems foolishness to proud human wisdom—but to those who accept it, it proves to have in it all the power of God, by which lost souls are forgiven, renewed, lifted up to life and saved eternally. God does not present his blessings in forms to attract worldly eyes. They often appear to such unlovely, undesirable. But when they are once accepted, their beauty and worth appear.
"Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" We need only to run our eyes over the history of the world to see that this is true. Wise men have been doing their best for ages—but what have they accomplished to bless mankind? They have discovered no way of salvation. With all their philosophies they have failed to make men any better. The days when mere human wisdom had reached its highest achievements, the days of the glory of ancient Greece and Rome, saw the world at its worst, morally. All that boasted wisdom, God has shown to be only foolishness. The gospel light proves all the world's philosophies and systems of religion, to be utter folly. The history of human science is full also of illustration. Men have announced discovery after discovery and theory after theory, only to have them swept away by the discoveries and theories of the next generation. The history of the progress of the natural sciences would furnish a splendid commentary on this verse.
"For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe." God gave men a chance to know him, and to find out the way to him. He gave them four thousand years for their wisdom to do its best. But at the end of that time they had not brought the world to God. Then he revealed his way. The cross was set up, and Jesus died upon it. Then the disciples were sent out to tell men of this way. Human wisdom was altogether ignored. Instead of great philosophers, a few humble men, fishermen and others were appointed to do the preaching. Instead of teaching systems of worldly philosophy, they were to go and tell the simple story of the cross, and tell it, too, not in dress of human wisdom—but in simple words that would not hide the cross itself. And by this men were to be saved; not merely instructed, or refined, or cultured—but saved, lifted up out of condemnation, made children of God and heirs of heaven, transformed into Christ's likeness, and exalted to glory.
"Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth." It is not any wise, mighty or noble are called—but not many. Lady Huntingdon thanked God for this one letter m, because it told her she was not excluded by her rank; not many noble are found among the called—but there are some, showing that if they will only accept of Christ crucified, the highest in rank will be saved.
"God has chosen the foolish things . . . the weak things . . . base things . . . the despised things . . . that no flesh should boast in his presence." God has chosen to build up his spiritual kingdom without calling in the aid of the world's wise men.
Macaulay tells of a stained-glass window in a cathedral, made by an apprentice from pieces of glass which had been rejected and thrown away as unfit to be used, and yet when it was finished it was the finest window in all the splendid building. So God is building his spiritual kingdom from materials which the world's wisdom and skill reject and refuse to use; yet when it is completed it will far outshine the greatest kingdoms ever reared on this earth.
The reason why human power and skill are so ignored in God's work—is so that no flesh should boast before God. That is, the work of redemption is altogether a divine work; there is no place in it for any human part; there is nothing left for human hands to do. We are saved by grace, entirely by grace. All the glory of salvation must be given to God. The wisest man the world ever saw, if saved, must be saved altogether through the favor and mercy of God. So of the mightiest; so of the noblest in rank. There is only one way of salvation, and that is by the crucified Christ, and the salvation must be received by faith as a free gift, unmerited.
"Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption." We are nothing in ourselves, and all the blessings that become ours when we are saved—come from Christ.
His wisdom becomes ours, as we receive his Spirit and learn of him through his Word. His treasures of wisdom are put so freely at our hand that we are told if we lack wisdom—we have only to ask of him in faith. We ought never to act foolishly—when we have such a promise. His wisdom is not like the worlds; the maxims of the world are often very foolish in God's sight.
Then we have no righteousness of our own. Our best moralities are only filthy rags. Our holiest deeds are unclean. Wash as we may in the purest water, we shall still be vile before God. We need Christ's righteousness, and he becomes righteousness to us. This he does in two ways. By his atonement he made merit for us, and thus our standing in law before God is made right. This is justification. Then by his Spirit and Word he renews us and makes us righteous in heart and character. This is sanctification.
All our redemption is from Christ; that is, until the work of redemption is completed in glory it—is all Christ's work, and every blessing comes from him. At the end, when we shall stand before his throne, with white robes and palms and crowns—it will be found that it is all of Christ. Nothing will be our own! "Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts—boast in the Lord." 1 Corinthians 1:31
1 Corinthians 9:19-27
Paul taught this lesson in verse 19, "I made myself servant unto all." We are not our own. We are Christ's. But we are Christ's for love and service. He does not want us to spend our time merely praising him in words and songs. He wants us to go out into the world and do our work. He wants us to live to serve others—that is his work in this world. No matter how independent of others we may be in our earthly condition or circumstances, as Christians we are under obligation to all, to every man, woman and child. We are to love all, and love means readiness to deny ourselves in any necessary way in order to do good. We are to serve others as Jesus did. He kept nothing back—but gave all, even gave himself on the cross.
"That I might gain them." We are in this world to win souls for Christ—not to win friends for ourselves—but to get people to be friends of Christ; not to gain honor for our own name—but to add honor to the name of Christ. We should think of what it means to gain a friend and a follower for Christ—what it means to the person thus gained. It means the saving of a soul from death, and the hiding of a multitude of sins. A great many people who join the Church seem to forget that they have anything to do in getting others to become Christians. It is the plan of Christ for saving this world, that his Church shall grow though the efforts of its members. One day, by the Jordan River, two men followed Jesus—the Church had two members then. These were the first. But soon each of these had brought another and then there were four. So the work of getting disciples went on. Each Christian has been brought by somebody else.
"To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak." There are many weak people in this world. Some have narrow views or imperfect consciences and are hard to get along with. Some are weak morally, unable to resist temptation. Some are weak in character—sensitive, touchy, easily offended. Some are weak in mind, unable to grasp the truth. Some are unreasonable, obstinately attached to certain views and uncharitable to those who do not think just as they do. A wise winner of souls must know how to deal with all of these classes. To the weak—he must become weak. That is, he must accommodate himself to their feelings, prejudices and frailties, even to their whims and caprices, to their narrowness, touchiness, or sensitiveness. It requires infinite patience, gentleness and tact to do this.
It is easy to get impatient and cross with people, to become vexed with their unreasonableness, or their narrowness and uncharitableness. It is easy to be offended by their whims and prejudices. But if we yield to this spirit, we shall do little good in the world. We must condescend to people's weaknesses and never vary in trying to help them. Teachers need this lesson if they would succeed in doing the best work in their classes. Tact, patience and gentleness are essential.
Pastors need the lesson—many a pastor, by his lack of this apostolic grace, is continually marring with one hand—the work of Christ which he is earnestly doing with the other hand. Parents need the lesson, that they may do their children good in the truest way. Many a child's life is hurt irreparably, by parents whose love is deep, tender and true—but who do not know how to become weak to the weak. We may learn from God's fatherly treatment of us—how we should condescend to weakness in others.
"This I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you." One does not read very far in his New Testament without finding that a Christian life means utter self-denial. There is no room in Christ's method of living, for selfishness in any form. One can never make self the aim and goal—and be a Christian. Whatever we do with our life, the motive must be something outside of self. We must tie our life to Christ—that he may draw it after him wherever he will. We must live for Christ and his gospel, no matter what it may cost us, how it may interfere with our self-interests in business, in pleasure, or with our comfort and ease.
In no other way can we really save our life. All other saving, is losing. But when we thus devote our life to the gospel and the work of the gospel, we become joint partakers with those we help to the blessing which they receive through us. It is always more blessed to give than to receive—the giver gets the larger share of the blessing.
"So run, that you may obtain." The picture is that of the race-course, with contestants striving for the prize. Yonder is the goal, and there is a laurel wreath held up which is to be given to the victor. Christian life is a race. A great company of witnesses are looking on—earthly and also heavenly witnesses. We know how boys run in a race on the playground, how everyone tries to be first. So Christians should strive to run, to excel in life and service. There is only one prize to be won in the race-course; but in the Christian race, there is a prize for every one who persists in running well.
"Every man that strives for the mastery—is temperate in all things." That is very plain, so plain that no one can fail to understand it. Those who are training for any kind of game are kept on plain diet and are rigidly required to observe all the rules of the health, for some time before the contest. Thus their bodies grow supple and strong, and they are prepared for doing their best. So it should be in Christian life.
Just so, if we would be good Christians and excel in character and attainment, we must be temperate in all things. We use the word temperate generally, with reference only to strong drinks. This is very important. Intemperance in drink is ruining thousands of lives. But the Christian must be "temperate in all things." We must learn to control our appetites, feelings and tempers, and must keep all our earthly life in subjection.
Young people do not usually understand the importance of this. It applies in school work. If we do the best with our mind, we must watch our bodily life—never overeating, never indulging in strong drink, guarding our temper and our passions and affections, taking plenty of exercise and of sleep, and in every way, learning to master the body, making it the servant of the mind.
It applies also to the moral and spiritual life. We must train our body, for it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. If our soul is to be saved and our character is to grow into its best strength and beauty—we must keep our body under control, and held always in subjection. Thousands of young men lose all that is worthy and beautiful in life—by allowing their appetites and passions to rule them.
"Lest. . . I myself be a castaway." Even the great apostle saw the possibility of danger in his own life, if he failed to keep his body in subjection. This ought to be a solemn warning to all of us. Many people make light of this matter. Young men are often heard saying, when warned against the habit of drinking: "Oh, I am all right. I can stop whenever I please." But a little later we see them dragged down into debasing drunkenness. The body has mastered the soul, and the higher life has become the slave of the lower. The only sure way to noble and victorious living, is to keep the body always in subjection. It is a fearful thought, that even after one has been helpful to others in teaching or preaching—one's own life may yet be dragged down by bodily appetites and passions—and the person who was so honored under God—be rejected of Christ, unfit for further service.
Story of His Life
2 Corinthians 11:22-12:10
More than twenty years after the conversion of Saul the Persecutor, further facts were added to the biography when Paul (as he was known during the years of his ministry) wrote his second letter to the church at Corinth. Charges of weakness and cowardice had been made against him, and he defended himself, not for his own sake—but for the sake of his preaching. He spoke of his trials and sufferings—but he refused to boast of his own achievements, as he knew that he owed everything to God.
In making his defense he said, "Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham's descendants? So am I." The Hebrews were proud of their name, and well they might be. They were God's chosen people. They had been honored above all other nations—in being the custodians of divine revelation. To them God had made himself known in holy ordinances. They had the tabernacle, the temple, the law, and the prophets. It was a great thing to be a Hebrew. The people boasted of their honor. But Paul was not behind them in this honor, for he was a Hebrew too. They boasted of their descent from Abraham—he was descended from Abraham too. He wanted the Jewish people who were now his enemies—to know that whatever of the glory of birth and ancestry they had, that he had the same. They gloried "after flesh"; he had the same glory.
Again, Paul asked, "Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more." What does he mean? Was he more than a minister of Christ? He seems to feel the unfitness of boasting in the matter. No true man ever likes to boast—or to have to uphold himself. As a patriot he could boast—but a Christian should always be lowly like his Master. What he meant was to tell of his devotion to Christ. A minister is a servant—Paul was Christ's servant in a most earnest way. He loved to call himself Christ's slave. This he explains and illustrates further in what he says of his services and sacrifices for the sake of Christ. It was in this way, that he was more a minister of Christ than they were. We show the quality of our devotion, in what we will do or suffer or give.
Then Paul breaks into the story of his life, what it had cost him to be a Christian—a minister of Christ. "I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again." That is, more abundantly than those he was addressing. He is not boasting of the superiority of his ministry—but is defending himself against their criticisms of him and his work, and speaks out of his heart as he remembers the sufferings he had endured in serving Christ. He is not complaining, either, in what he says about what he has suffered—indeed, he is glorying in it. It was the highest honor to be permitted to suffer for Christ. His wounds and scars—were marks of Jesus, decoration. The patriot soldier is not ashamed of his wounds received in his country's wars; he does not hide them, for they tell of his devotion to his land. The missionary is not ashamed of the marks he bears of the injuries he received in doing his duty.
The story of his sufferings as Paul tells it here, shows us something of the meaning of his life as a missionary. The life of the Christian minister in Christian lands, is one of honor and comfort. However self-denying he may be—he is loved and respected. He is not beaten, stoned, cast into prison, and loaded with chains. The minister's life is as a rule—one of delight. The life of the modern missionary is likewise as a rule, measurably happy and comfortable. Now and then, as in the Boxer outbreak in China, missionaries are called to endure great sufferings. But such experiences are exceptional, even in the newest missionary countries. The story of what Paul had suffered in his missionary work, shows how much it cost him.
"Five different times the Jews gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have lived with weariness and pain and sleepless nights. Often I have been hungry and thirsty and have gone without food. Often I have shivered with cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm!" He did not go about telling of his persecutions—this is almost the only mention he made of them. He is not complaining now—but glorying. He is not showing how hard it was to be a missionary, advising young men not to study for the ministry. He is rejoicing that he was counted worthy. These records are lines of victory.
Paul refers in passing to other matters which had made his ministry one of pain and suffering. "In perils among false brethren" suggests disloyalties, charges, accusations, enmities. "It is not things that trouble us," said an experienced missionary to a traveler, "our difficulties are folks." Paul found much of his trouble in folks. The "care of all the churches" he mentions, too. He loved his churches and it grieved him to know of their strifes. His was a marvelous ministry. The world never saw anything like it before, and it has never seen anything like it since.
In the twelfth chapter Paul passes to visions. "I will come to visions and revelations." In these also, he had surpassed his enemies. He tells of experiences of remarkable character. He had been caught up even to the third heaven, into Paradise, and had heard unspeakable words. Then it was that there was given to Paul the "thorn in the flesh." What this "thorn" was we need not try to find out, for nobody really knows. All we need to know is told us—that it was the messenger of Satan to buffet him, lest he should be exalted over much by reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations. It was a humbling experience of some kind. Then he tells us what he sought to do. He went to God in prayer with this torturing thorn. "For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me." But his prayer was not answered in the way he hoped it would be. Yet it was answered in another way. He must keep his thorn—but he received the promise of grace to enable him to endure the pain, the humiliation, and yet go on with his work.
"My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." That is, he would get more of Christ's strength just in proportion to his own weakness. Then we have Paul's triumphant word. "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak—then am I strong."
Thus we have the marks of Paul's superiority as a minister of Christ. There is no unfit boasting in this story of what he had suffered and what he had experienced. It was in his weakness that he gloried—that he was nothing—and that Christ was all in all.
When Paul sent his message to the Christians of Galatia, he emphasized emphatically the great doctrine of justification by faith, for this was the preaching they most needed. After saying that all Christians, without regard to nation, were children of God by faith in Christ, he went on to tell of the condition of the heir while under age, "What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate." This is illustrated in the infancy and early years of royal children.
An interesting little story is told of the late King Edward of England. When he was a child he once refused obedience to his governess and appealed to his dignity and rank as heir to the throne of England. Prince Albert was called, and bringing a Bible, he read this verse to him and chastised him. One application here is that in entering upon a Christian life, its requirements and restraints may seem at the beginning burdensome.
The first duty of a child of God is absolute and unquestioning obedience, and obedience may not at first be a delight. Yet we are to obey, whether it is a pleasure or not. The fact that we are children of God and heirs of eternal glory—does not free us from the most commonplace duties that our earthly relations impose. Freedom has to be gotten through submission to law.
"Even when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world." All learning is bondage at first. We listen to a fine player on the piano. Her fingers wander over the keys without a pause or mistake. But there was a time when every note had to be picked out on the keyboard, and when the simplest exercise cost painful effort. There was bondage under the rudiments, before there was freedom. So it is in reading; the child begins with the A B C, and learns to spell syllables and frame words. It is a slavish process. But in a few years he takes up and reads any page with fluency and ease, never thinking of the letters and syllables. It is the same in all arts and in all learning. So it is in Christian life. Duties have to be learned, sometimes painfully, and repeated over and over until they become gracious habits. The value of this truth here is to press the importance of perseverance in all Christian duties, however irksome and hard at first, until bondage becomes freedom and delight.
"But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons." A gentleman interested in the education of the Indians has many photographs of parties that have passed under his notice. One day he picked up three pictures and was struck by the order in which they lay. The first was a group of Indians at the time of their arrival at Hampton, in all their wild savagery of feature and dress. The third picture was of that same group at the close of their course at Hampton, when they wore all the marks of civilization and Christian refinement. Then between these two pictures there had slipped by mere accident a photograph of one of the famous paintings of the Savior. The suggestion was very beautiful. Between the state of savage rudeness and Christian refinement, there was Christ. It was, indeed, Christ who had wrought the wondrous transformation. It needs only to be pointed out here that between the bondage and freedom of these verses—there is Christ and his redemption.
"That we might receive the adoption of sons." It is a blessed relation, into which redemption brings all who receive Christ. Even to be made God's servants, in the lowliest places, would be a high honor; but we become God's children.
"Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God." It is said that when a convert in India was translating these words of John, he said, "Surely it cannot mean that"; and he wrote instead, "That we should be allowed to kiss his feet." But the words are not thus to be toned down. The adoption is real. "As many as received him," said John again, "to them he gave power to become the sons of God." All, therefore, who truly receive Christ as their Savior and Lord become God's children. The Holy Spirit is given to them, and thus they are born again.
Some people seem almost ashamed to be known as Christians. They act as if it were something unmanly or unwomanly. But when we learn into what dignity it exalts us—we should rather glory in being Christians. The children of Queen Victoria are never ashamed to be recognized as such. They do not try to hide the fact. Why should any human being be ashamed to be known as a child of the infinite God?
"Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." This is the way God "seals" his children, that is testifies that they are his children. He gives them the Holy Spirit. It is in this way, too, that he changes their hearts.
One day in Africa a chief of one of the tribes said to Dr. Livingstone: "I wish you would change my heart. Give me medicine to change it, for it is proud, proud and angry, angry always." Dr. Livingstone lifted up a New Testament and was about to tell him of the only way in which the heart can be changed—but the chief interrupted him, "Nay, I will have it changed by medicine to drink, and changed at once, for it is always very proud and very uneasy, and continually angry with someone." Yet there is no medicine that will change a heart. But when the Spirit comes and enters the heart, it is changed—and one of the evidences of the change is a new feeling toward God. For the first time we feel toward him as a Father, and call him out of our hearts with loving joy, "Our Father."
"You are no more a servant—but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." It takes many Christians a long while to realize this. They do not seem to understand their privileges, their dignity. There is a picture which somewhere I have seen described, which, looked at in the ordinary light, shows but a figure of a wearied and defeated pilgrim, stretched in his last sickness on a straw pallet in the poorest sort of a city garret. But when you look at the picture in the light the artist meant it to be seen in, you see that above the head of that outcast and dying man—that the air is all thronged with angels, and the light that streams down from the heavenly home points out the pathway there. In the picture, as at first it appears, we see the man as he seems; in the other view we have the man as he really is, a child of God, an heir of glory.
If all Christians but realized their glorious dignity and destiny—what joy it would inspire in their hearts! This was the freedom that Paul had. See him in the jail at Philippi, in the inner prison, his feet fast in stocks—but his spirit was as free as the eagle that soars in the sky. That is a glimpse of his whole experience. He could not be bound. Nero might thrust him into the Mammertine dungeon—but it was the tyrant and not his prisoner—that was the real slave. A child of God who realized his dignity, cannot be robbed of his liberty.
"Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods." Many people think they are free only when they keep away from Christ and out of his service; and that if they become Christians they would become slaves. But really they are slaves while they live in sin, and can only become free by taking Christ's yoke.
"But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?" They had gone back from the blessed liberty of Christ to the old ceremonies of the Jewish Church, and had made themselves slaves again to its burdensome observances. There are Christians now also who are slaves to ritualism. They can worship God only in certain forms. They observe special days and minute rules. Their liturgies written or unwritten are to them what the lame man's crutches are to him. A Christian who has the true liberty of Christ worships God in Spirit, and is not dependent on the mode. He uses all helps and means of grace—but is himself above all.
Yet it must not be inferred that Christian liberty is freedom from the law and will of God. Liberty is not license. Rather, it is the bringing of the whole heart and life into such perfect subjection to God, that the highest freedom is the truest devotion to him. The child that is free—is not the prodigal who has torn away from the restraints of the home—but the one who is lovingly and faithfully doing filial duty. Christian freedom is consecration to Christ's will. He who can say, "May Your will be done," and say it sweetly and lovingly, whether it be a hard duty or a painful submission, is free. So it is not freedom from God's law—but in God's law, which is the Christian's privilege.
The passage on which this chapter is based begins with a look backward at the condition from which the Ephesians has sprung. They had been raised from the dead. Jesus Christ came into a world of dead men. He himself was the only living man in the world. He came to give life to the dead. "I am come that they might have life." "You. . . who were dead," says the apostle to the Ephesians. They had lived in trespasses and sins. They had walked according to the course of this world instead of after the way of God's commandments. They had come out of heathenism. "The prince of the power of the air" had been their master. This "prince of the power of the air" is Satan. We need not, however, accept the view of the Jewish rabbis that the air is Satan's abode, that it is peopled by demons flitting about invisibly. Probably Paul means here the moral atmosphere of the world. "The power of the air is a fitting designation of the prevailing spirit of the times, whose influence spreads itself like a miasma through the whole atmosphere of the world."
Not only the Ephesians—but we all, lived at one time the same sinful life. We are "children of disobedience" and consequently "children of wrath." If we keep God's commandments we abide in his love. If we do not keep his commandments we are under condemnation. "It is God's smile or frown—that makes the sunshine or the gloom of our whole life."
It is an unflattering picture of humanity which we have in these verses—but who will deny its truthfulness? Who will claim that we are not prone to disobedience? Who will say that wrath is not our just deserving? It is well that we should look at this picture of our natural state, that we may be reminded of what we were—when God found us and had mercy upon us. "Lest we forget!" If we forget what our great need was, and our miserable state before we were redeemed; gratitude will die out of our hearts. But if we remember, we will always praise God for his abounding mercy.
Next we have a view of what God's grace has been done for us. Instead of being dead, we are now alive, "quickened." The death, resurrection and ascension of Christ—are used to illustrate the change that takes place when one is saved, and also to indicate the source of that change. "The same almighty hand that was laid upon the body of the dead Christ and lifted him from the grave, to the highest seat in heaven—is now laid upon your soul. It has raised you from the grave and death of sin—to share by faith his celestial life."
We are dead in our natural state, like a body lying in the grave. Then we are raised up, made to live. We are raised up with Christ. This suggests what a stupendous work our salvation is. "When a human soul wakes from its trespasses and sins, when the love of God is poured into a heart that was cold and empty; when the Spirit of God breathes into a spirit that lies powerless and dead, there is as true a rising from the dead as when Jesus our Lord came out from his sepulcher." Not only are we raised up with Christ from the grave—but we ascend with him into the heavenly places. We should live in the heavenly life in this world. "If you then are risen with Christ—seek those things which are above, where Christ sits on the right hand of God."
We should study also the divine part in our salvation, as it is here described. The thought of our redemption began not in any desire of our own—but in the heart of God. "We love him—because he first loved us." We have it here in the words, "But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead. . . has quickened us." God did not save us because we asked him to do so—there never would be anyone lifted up out of death, if God waited for us to call upon him before showing mercy.
Four qualities in God combine in saving us out of our sins—his mercy, his love, his grace, and his kindness.
Mercy inclines God to have pity upon the unworthy. We are all sinners. If there were no mercy in God, none ever could be saved, for none are without sin. But God is merciful—he is "rich in mercy." All the wealth of his being pours itself out in tenderness, in compassion, in forgiveness. His mercy is so great—that the greatest sinner may be forgiven, that the guiltiest sinner does not exhaust it.
Then there is love as well as mercy in God. We can conceive of him as being rich in mercy, yet not loving us. A monarch might pardon a host of convicts—and yet not love one of them. But in the heart of God there is love as well as mercy. The love is the fountain from which the mercy springs. The love of God is that which makes his mercy so wonderful. He not only frees from condemnation—but he takes the forgiven one into his own family! We become children of God. "Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God."
Grace and kindness are phases of the working of love. Grace is love in action, working out and blessing in spite of sin. The cross is its highest manifestation. We have its ministry in the gospel. Kindness is the expression of love in all gentle ways. Kindness has been called the small coin of love. It is the touch of God's hand, the expression of his affection.
In the first verses we have a picture of our state before God found us and saved us—and it is dark, indeed! Here we have a picture of what the mercy and love of God have done for us in exalting us from death to life, from condemnation to companionship with Christ in heavenly places.
The closing verses tell us something of the way this great redemption is wrought. For one thing, we are saved by grace. That is, our salvation is not earned or won by us; it is not got by any deserving of our own; it comes purely as a divine favor. That is what grace means—free, unmerited love and kindness. We should get this thought clearly fixed in our minds. Some people seem to think that God owes them mercy, that they have earned it. But we deserve nothing but eternal wrath. Salvation is the gift of God. We cannot buy it.
There is a story of a woman whose daughter was ill, and who sought at a garden gate to buy some grapes for her child. The gardener treated her harshly—but the king's daughter who was near heard her piteous request and brought her all the grapes she could carry. The woman wanted to pay for them—but the princess answered: "My father is the king. He does not sell grapes—he gives them." God does not sell the favors of his love—he gives them freely.
We are saved through faith. Faith accepts Christ and rests in him, and thus receives the salvation which he has made for all who believe. Faith is the empty hand which takes what is put into it.
"Not of works." We are not saved because we have done good deeds. We are to do good deeds. There is not a word in the Bible against good works. Indeed, they are enjoined upon all who would follow Christ. We are always to abound in the work of the Lord. We are taught to be kind to the poor, the sick, the distressed, and the needy. In the judgment those who will be on the right hand, will be those to whom the Judge will say, "I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you took care of Me; I was in prison and you visited Me." Those on the left hand will be those who shall hear just the reverse, "I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat." Yet we are not saved by good works. We are saved altogether by grace through the mercy and love of God. Then, being thus saved, God's grace enters our hearts and inspires in us all manner of loving service.
"We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works." This shows us the place of good works—the result in us of the new creation wrought by the grace of God. We are not saved because we are good—we are to be good because we have been saved. For salvation is infinitely more than the forgiveness of sins. The forgiven sinner is regenerated, born again, becomes a new creature; and this new creature is a child of God, filled with love and abounding in all good works.
Counsel for Christians
The Epistle to the Philippians is full of cheer and inspiration. Although written in a prison, a sweet song sings though it all. No other of the churches established by Paul, seems to have given him so much comfort—as did this church at Philippi. His cheerful counsels to these church members are golden words for all Christians. The passage begins with an expression of the apostle's love for his people, from whom now he was separated. He speaks to them as beloved and longed for, his joy and crown. No reward that a pastor can have is so great as souls led to Christ and lives helped, built up, and enriched.
The first lesson taught is that of steadfastness. "Stand fast in the Lord."
Next, he exhorts them to unity in spirit and life. It would seem that two women, Euodias and Syntyche, had been estranged in some way, and Paul writes to his yokefellow, urging him to seek a restoration of kindly relations between them. Paul thus sought to realize the Beatitude, "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God." It is a pleasant thought, that the names of all those who live and work for Christ are in the book of life. They may not be written in the list of those who are distinguished on the earth—but the humblest and lowliest name is down in the register of heaven.
The keynote of Paul's life from the first to last is joy. We have it here, "Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice!" This word sounds a little strange, coming from a prison. But Paul had in his heart, that which mastered all gloom and depression. Christians ought always to be happy. Of course this does not mean that they should be foolish. Christian joy is not silly giggling, nor mere light-heartedness. Life is not all fun—it is real and earnest, ofttimes grave and serious, sometimes solemn and tearful. "Rejoice. . . always" does not mean that one never is to have a serious thought, is always to be in some round of gaiety. This word is for the sick room and the hour of sorrow, as well as for the play room and the wedding day. It does not draw its inspiration from circumstances—it is in the heart. It is not joy which this world's favors and pleasures give—it is joy which springs from fellowship with Christ.
Another lesson in Christian living is gentleness, "Let your gentleness be evident to all." This does not mean that you are to go about telling everybody how patient, gentle and meek you are. That would be a troublesome task, and then, people might not always believe you. There is a better way of letting others know that you possess these traits. Show your gentleness in your life and conduct, in your daily interaction with men. Be patient under injury, provocation, or annoyance. Be forgiving. Show your gentleness as Christ showed his: in your speech, in the returning of love for hate, of kindness for unkindness, of love for rudeness. Such a quality in the life is like sweet perfume–you cannot hide it, and it needs no advertising. It makes itself known, if only you have it truly in your life.
Another life-lesson is never to be anxious. "Do not worry about anything." This seems rather strong counsel for ordinary mortals. It would apparently be a great deprivation to many people—if they could not worry and fret about something. A state of peaceful repose would be very wearisome and monotonous to them. Anxiety is a chronic state with too many. What a change it would bring about in the world, if every Christian would learn this lesson—in nothing to be anxious! It would add almost infinitely to the sum of human happiness, if we would eliminate this one element of misery. Worry does double work in the way of wretchedness—it makes wretched, first—the man himself who worries; then it makes his neighbors wretched.
How useless worrying is, too! It removes no trouble, lightens no burden, and softens no hardness in one's lot. On the other hand, it only makes the trial greater and the heart in its feverishness, less strong for endurance. Even philosophy, without religion, would seem to teach us to be anxious for nothing. The trouble is, however, that philosophy is more plentiful than philosophers. Everybody can tell you how not to worry—but nobody seems to live his own philosophy.
What to do with one's worries, Paul tells us also. We are to put them into God's hands—and leave them there. "In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God." Take them to God, tell him all about them, and leave them with him. You are God's child; he is caring for you and also for your affairs. You have no troubles or perplexities which he does not understand, which he is not able either to remove—or to carry you through. This is the divine cure for care, and the result will be that "the peace of God. . . shall keep your hearts and minds."
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things!" Philippians 4:8. The next life-lesson the apostle teaches is contained in the wonderful cluster of "whatevers." This is one of the great ethical texts of the Bible. All of these qualities belong to a noble Christian character. Those first named are the sturdy elements—truth, honor, justice, purity; then come the more delicate and beautiful things—qualities that are winning and attractive. Some people cultivate the first class and neglect the other. They are sturdy and just—but not lovable. We have no right to make our religion repulsive; it ought to be lovely and attractive. Then there are some who cultivate the aesthetics of religion and leave out the grand qualities of truth and uprightness. This is worse than the other omission. It takes both classes to make a full-rounded Christian character.
Paul tells us to think of these things—but thinking is not enough—he says, also, "These things. . . do." Thinking and doing are both important. Our thoughts make our character. They build it up little by little, as coral insects build up great reefs. Every thought we nourish leaves an impression, a touch—a mark of beauty or blemish. How important that we think only holy and beautiful things! That is what Paul teaches here. The things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, are what we are to think on. Thinking on false things, dishonorable things, unlovely things, makes us like those things; but pondering the noble qualities transforms us into the same nobleness.
"Beautiful thoughts—make a beautiful soul,
And a beautiful soul—makes a beautiful face."
But thinking is not enough. One only really knows—what one practices. It is not enough to raise the standard of pure and holy thoughts—we must follow the thoughts with acts; we must think right things—and then do them.
Another of the great life-lessons taught here, is contentment. "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." There may be some who study this lesson who cannot yet say this. It may be a comfort to such, to remember that Paul says he had "learned" it. He was not always so contented. It probably took him a good while to get the lesson learned, for he was quite an old man when he wrote this sentence. All lessons in life have to be learned; they do not come to us as gifts of God—but only as copies set for us, which we are to try to follow. Of course the great secret lies within the heart. If we have in us the "well of water" which Christ gives, we need not be dependent on the little springs of earthly water which go dry so often. If we have Christ—we really ought not to be greatly affected either by the possession or the loss of earthly comforts. That was Paul's secret.
The last life-lesson taught, is the ability of the Christian to do anything that God really gives him to do. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Here Paul puts the honor where it belongs. His contentment was not his own achievement. It was not the result of philosophy, was not caused by the dying out of ambition in his breast; it was because he was in Christ—that he could be content; Christ gave him strength for it, so that in whatever circumstances he was—he could quietly trust and rejoice. Christian life is full of impossibilities—things that are impossible to anyone with only human strength. But when God gives us a command—he always means to give the strength required to keep the command. It was a prayer of Augustine's, "Command what you will—and give what you command." We should never hesitate to attempt any task that God gives, for he will always give us all the strength we need!
Waiting for Christ
1 Thessalonians 4:9-5:2
It was probably during the early part of his mission at Corinth, that Paul wrote the epistle from which this passage is taken. The church at Thessalonica had been in existence almost a year. Erroneous views, especially about Christ's second coming, had spread among its members. Many of them had given up their daily employments, claiming that it was unnecessary to work, and that the richer members should support them while they idly awaited the Lord's return. To correct these errors and to exhort the people to a life of order, self-control and industry, Paul wrote this epistle.
The best way to prepare for Christ's coming—is to live a life of love. "Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other," Paul wrote. This seems to us a very commonplace lesson, for during nineteen hundred years the world has been hearing it. But at the time these words were written, it was a new teaching. Christ brought love into the world. Of course there was love before—love of parent for child, love of brother for sister, love of friend for friend. But Jesus taught a new lesson—that we should love all men—our neighbour as our self—and that his followers should love one another as brethren.
After the day of Pentecost there was a wonderful development of this new affection. The disciples had all things common. The rich aided the poor, the strong supported the weak, the joyful comforted the sorrowing, the victorious helped the defeated and fallen to rise again. Since that time, Christian love has been doing a marvelous work in this world. All hospitals, asylums, homes for the poor, for orphans, for the blind, and all manner of institutions for helping of the unfortunate, have sprung from this teaching of Christ. As it were, the heart of Jesus broke on Calvary—and its love poured out, streaming all over the earth, wherever the gospel was carried. We must be sure that we get this lesson well into our lives, and in our close, personal relations love one another as brethren.
"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life." This is a counsel against all blustering, all restlessness, all fussiness, and all passion for notoriety. Jesus himself, in his own life, gives us the best possible interpretation. It was said of him by the prophet, "He shall not strive, nor cry out; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets." We know how quietly he moved. He never sought notoriety. He did his work silently. The Christian should cultivate the same spirit. We are to put away all bitterness and all anger and evil speaking and all clamor—whatever is noisy; and are to put on meekness, peace, gentleness, patience, mercy, humility—the quiet graces. Perhaps we shall find it true at last—that the things we have sought to do with noise and advertising, have left but small results in men's lives, in the bettering of the world, while the unconscious influences of our lives have left everywhere deep and ineffaceable impressions.
"Mind your own business!" 1 Thessalonians 4:11. Some people have so much to do in looking after other people's affairs—that they have very little time left for their own! It is well for us to learn the lesson that our first responsibility is for our own life, our own conduct, the way we manage our own affairs. Every man must bear his own burden. We would better learn to keep our hands off other people's matters, unless in cases where they need our help, when it is a part of our duty to look not only upon our own things—but also upon the things of others. Love must always be ready to help, to share another's burden. But we must never be "meddlers in other men's matters."
On the other hand, we must 'mind our own business'. This means that we must not expect other people to do it for us. It is unmanly to wish to be helped through life, letting others bear the burdens for us. We must take up our own burden and carry it manfully. It means also that we must mind our own business, that is—put our whole heart into it and do it energetically, bravely. Some people who claim to be very pious and good—are too indolent to do anything, and their life proves to be a miserable failure. Have some business of your own—and put your heart into it.
"So that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." The world is watching Christians all the time—to see how they live. They represent Christ in this world, and have Christ's honor in their keeping. All those who profess to be God's children, must take heed that they never dishonor the name of their Father. This covers far more than the worship and the behavior on Sundays or when engaged in religious services; it applies still more to the conduct of Christians during the week, in their business, in their social lie, in their many contacts with the people of the world. They are always on duty as Christians, and must never do anything that will bring dishonor upon Christ's name.
"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope." Very much of the bitterness of the sorrow of Christians, is caused by ignorance concerning their beloved ones who have died. If we would give careful heed to the teachings of the New Testament concerning the death of believers and the blessedness into which they enter after death—our sorrow would not be bitter. Of course, Christian faith does not deaden our hearts, does not make it easy for us to give up our friends, does not make the pang of separation slight; but the comfort which Christianity reveals, ought so to change the aspect of death as to bring a deep joy to our hearts, even in our greatest sorrow. When Jesus came to the home at Bethany in a time of bereavement, he comforted the sorrowing ones by revealing the immortal life. "Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die." We should be Christians in our sorrow, as well as in our business.
"We believe that God will bring with Jesus—those who have fallen asleep in him." Jesus died and rose again. We are told that in his resurrection, he was the first fruits of those who asleep. Jesus was the first to rise from the grave—but his resurrection was the pledge that all who sleep in him—will rise too. One of the New Testament portraits of Jesus, shows him holding in his hand a bundle of keys—the keys of death and the grave. He has conquered death and dethroned the king of terrors, and is now himself the king of the realm of death. Our Christian loved ones who have fallen asleep—are safe in his keeping, sleeping in their chambers of peace, and in his own time he will call them forth.
"The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout!" The stupendous events described in these verses, we cannot explain; it is better we should not try to explain them. Humble faith would better accept them as true, and rejoice in the glorious assurances which they contain.
"Therefore comfort one another with these words." It is the mission of Christian people to be comforters of others in their sorrow. Yet too many Christians who go to their friends in the time of bereavement, are anything but comforters. They go with a certain kind of sympathy—but it is a weak, almost hopeless sympathy. They sit down by the sorrowing ones, listen to their story of grief, and talk with them about the sad phases of their sorrow, thus taking them down into the darkest shadows. Then they turn away with a few more sad words, and leave them in the depths of despair. Miserable comforters, indeed, are such people!
When we go to those who are in sorrow—we should rather carry to them the strong consolations of God's Word. We should not linger with them upon the sad phases of the experience through which they are passing—but should turn their thoughts to the promise of God, to the truth of immortality, and thus lift them up toward strength and rejoicing. The word "comfort" means to give strength; and we should always try to make our friends stronger, that they may be better able to carry their burden of sorrow. Trouble should never crush a Christian; on the other hand, the Christian should rejoice in God, and sing songs in the night.
1 Thessalonians 5:14-24
"We urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle!" There is a duty of warning others. We may not always speak words of commendation and approval. When people are living in a disorderly way, that is, not in harmony with the Word of God—they are to be admonished. We must make sure, however, that we do this in the spirit of Christ, in love, in order to help those we admonish. No other duty requires more wisdom—than that of telling others of their faults.
"Encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone." Then we should always be encouragers, for there are many timid, faint hearted people who continually need to be lifted up and helped onward. We should never be discouragers of others—but always encouragers. There are those, too, who are weak and need the strength and support which we can give them. The strong should help the weak. We should bear each other's burdens. We are also to be patient to all, no matter how they may treat us. It is not easy—but we are not Christians, if we are not trying to live after this law of love.
"Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else." The teaching of Christ also requires us to render always good for evil, never evil for evil. This is a very practical counsel, and it is never easy to follow it. Yet it is an inseparable part of all Christian life. If one contends for the heroic in Christian character, nothing could be more heroic than this. To return love for hate, kindness for injury, is far braver than to be angry and resentful, demanding satisfaction. We should always follow that which is good, that is, we should think ever of the good of others and in all things make this our aim for them. Anything that would injure or harm another, is absolutely un-Christian.
"Be joyful always!" Joy is never to be left out of any scheme of Christian life. We are to rejoice not now and then only—but always. Even sorrow should not hush the songs in our hearts. This element of joy can be only in the life in which Christ lives and rules. There is difference in people in the matter of joyousness—but true Christian joy is not that which nature inspires—but the joy which comes from the heart of God—and which nothing ever can overcome or destroy.
"Pray continually!" Prayer is another essential element in every true Christian life. Not to pray—is not to live at all as a Christian, for prayer is 'the Christian's vital breath'. The exhortation to pray without ceasing, may seem a strange one. It means, however, that our communion with God never need be broken, never should be broken. We cannot be always on our knees; for we have work to do, duties to perform, which we may not neglect, and which are just as sacred as praying. But we may pray at our work, by keeping always close to Christ, so that anywhere, any moment, we can look up into his face and speak to him and get an answer.
"Give thanks in everything, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." Thanksgiving should never be lacking in a Christian life. It is not enough to observe one day in the year for 'Thanksgiving' although that is a beautiful thing to do. Nor is it enough to put a sentence of thanksgiving into our daily prayers, although that, also, is proper. It is the grateful spirit which pleases God, the spirit that is always full of praise. There should be a note of thanksgiving running through all our life.
Too many of us go to God only with requests, with our burdens, our worries, our troubles; while we but rarely go to him with any word of thanks. We are not to be thankful only for the pleasant and agreeable things that come into our days—we are to be thankful, too, for the things that appear to us to be adversities. "Give thanks in everything." That means,—in the sad days as well as in the glad days, when clouds are in the sky, as well as when the sunshine is pouring everywhere. It is said here that this is the will of God for us. The Christliest life—is the one that is always keyed to the note of praise and thanksgiving.
"Do not put out the Spirit's fire." It is the glory of our Christian life, that God lives in it. Paul said, "Christ lives in me." A fire burns in our hearts—which is fed from heaven. We live at our best—only when we let this flame burn brightly in us. We are exhorted here not to quench the Spirit. Fire is quenched by pouring water upon it, or by covering it up so as to exclude the air. The Spirit may be quenched in us by sin, by worldliness, by evil thoughts, by bad passions, by resistance. To quench this heavenly flame—is to put out the light of life, leaving the darkness of death within us.
"Do not treat prophecies with contempt." Prophesyings, in a general way, are divine teachings, the messages of God to us. The Bible is a book of prophesyings. All heavenly instructions, counsels, warnings, from whatever source, may in a sense be called prophesyings. We should keep in our minds and hearts always wide open to receive the Words of God and to welcome all divine influences and impressions and inspirations, whether they are spoken by the Spirit of God in his Word, or by a human friend who shares the Word.
"Test everything. Hold on to the good." Not all voices, however, that speak are divine voices. Not all words that fall upon our ears, are words from heaven. We should test all things, to see whether they are of God or not. Then we should hold fast only "to the good." We are to judge carefully between the genuine and the counterfeit. Put to the test of Scripture truth—all counsels that are given to you. Not all such counsels are from God. We should make sure that the voice which we hear—is our Master's own voice, is the voice of one who counsels us wisely, and not the voice of a stranger speaking to us in heavenly words to draw us away from the truth.
"Avoid every kind of evil." Some professors are accustomed to think of some things as 'only slightly evil', while other things are very vile in their sinfulness. They appear to think, that if they keep themselves from the worse kind of sins—then they need not be so watchful against the minor forms of evil. They will not lie, nor steal, nor swear, nor do other things which would brand them in the eyes of the community, as 'wicked'. But meanwhile they are ungentle, unkind, selfish, bad-tempered, loving the world, and selfish. But Paul's exhortation is, "Avoid every kind of evil." We are not to pick out certain things and condemn these alone as evil, abstaining from them; meanwhile indulging in pet vices and sinful habits of our own. Whatever is sinful in even the slightest way—is to be avoided!
"May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Thessalonians 5:23. This prayer for consecration is very comprehensive. It is that we may be sanctified, that is, set apart wholly for God and God's use. We belong to God, for he has bought us with a price, and we should make ourselves altogether God's—by keeping ourselves separate from sin and from the world. It is a prayer that our whole being—body, soul, and spirit, shall be kept pure and holy, amid all the world's evil; preserved entire, without blame, until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It may seem impossible for anyone to realize this high ideal of living. But the words which follow tell us how it becomes possible. "God, who calls you, is faithful; who also will do it." We are safe in this world, therefore, when God keeps us—when his sheltering, protecting love enfolds us.
2 Timothy 1:1-7-3:14-17
It is very interesting to study Paul's friendships. Evidently he was a man of very warm and tender heart, with deep sympathies. He needed Christian companionship and his heart hungered for love. In the Acts and Epistles we can trace the story of many of his friendships. None of them is more beautiful than that with Timothy. Timothy was a young man who had been brought to Christ by the apostle, and who was his companion and helper during many years. In this passage, we have glimpses of the strong affection that bound this young man to the old apostle's heart.
"Paul. . . to Timothy, my dearly beloved son." We all like to get letters from our friends. Letters are so common now, that they are not prized as they used to be when they were rare. We can imagine Timothy receiving this letter from his old friend in Rome. It was written from a prison. It is full of loving counsel. It contained the last words of Paul that have been preserved to us.
"I thank God. . . as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers." It is a noble thing to live so that people thank God for us. Parents are very happy when they can thank God for their children. Sometimes they cannot do so—sometimes children live so as to bring great sorrow to the hearts of their parents. It is beautiful, too, to find that Paul prayed so earnestly for his young friend Timothy. It is a great privilege to be remembered in prayer by godly people.
"Greatly desiring to see you." Paul was very lonely in his prison. In the closing part of his letter—he says he was almost entirely alone. "Only Luke is with me." He mentioned different friends who had been with him—but who had gone away, some of them having forsaken him. He begged Timothy to come to him as soon as possible.
There is something very pathetic about this picture of Paul's aloneness. He speaks of his first trial, and says that no one took his part then, but that all forsook him. It is not hard to be faithful to God—when other people stand beside us. It is not hard to be a Christian in a Christian home, in a Christian church, in a Christian school, or when one's companions are in full sympathy with one's religion. But it is very hard to be a Christian, when one must stand alone, when no one sympathizes. Every young person should learn to stand so firmly for Christ, that even if left entirely alone in the midst of ungodly people—he may still be able to stand faithful to Christ. Paul longed to see Timothy. We are reminded of Jesus himself in Gethsemane, when he craved the presence and sympathy of his closest friends in his great sorrow.
"The sincere faith. . . which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in you also." Here is a glimpse of a beautiful home of the olden time. We can picture to ourselves the old grandmother with gentle heart and softened speech, who took delight in teaching the boy the words of God and in praying with him and for him. Then we can think of the mother, amid her household cares supported by the promise of God and the hopes of true religion, also teaching her child the truths which gave so much joy and comfort to the Jewish mothers in those days. No wonder, with such training, amid such influences, Timothy grew to be such a godly man. It is a great privilege to be born and reared amid such holy influences.
"Stir up the gift of God, which is in you." Evidently Timothy was not doing the best possible with his life. He was not making the most of the grace of God that was in him. The fire needs to be stirred up that it may blaze and flame and send out heat and light. In Timothy's heart, the blessings of God's grace were smouldering too quietly, and needed to be stirred up. Many young Christians need the same counsel. They are good, honest, truthful, faithful, in many ways—but they are not doing their best. They must live much more earnestly, and be much more useful to their fellow men.
"God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." It seems as if Timothy was fearful, shy, and almost cowardly. The times were hard for consistent Christian living. Those who followed Christ, were sure to meet persecution, and ofttimes death was the certain consequence of faithful confession of Christ. In our days it much easier to follow Christ. No danger is involved in it. We need have no fear of persecution. Yet even in these times there are those who are in danger of suffering from shyness and fearfulness. God wants us to be brave and loyal, wherever we are called upon to stand.
"Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us." A follower of Christ never should be swerved from the things which are true and right.
A great many people know plenty of Scripture truth—but do not live it out. The test of knowing—is doing. It is not enough to learn. "If you know these things—happy are you if you do them." John 13:17. We really know only so much truth—as we get into our experience and conduct. All of the Bible we can truly call our own—is what we have learned to live. It is a beautiful thing when a person has been well-taught; it is still more beautiful when he abides in the things which he has been taught, living out the lessons in daily life.
"From a child you have known the holy Scriptures." It is a great privilege to grow up in an atmosphere of Bible teaching, to have for first teacher a godly mother, who whispers into the ear sweet things of God's love and the counsels of heavenly wisdom. Such influences affect the life to its very close.
"The holy Scriptures. . . are able to make you wise unto salvation." There are other kinds of wisdom in this world which do not make one wise to salvation. A man may know a great deal about science or literature or history—and be very wise in this world's learning, and yet not be saved. The bible gives the true wisdom. It tells us that we are lost sinners—but it does not stop there. It answers our questions about duty, about God, about the future life and how to live so as to gain the heavenly blessedness. It makes us wise unto salvation!
"Through faith which is in Christ Jesus." The Bible itself does not save anyone—it only shows the way to be saved. One might know all the Bible—and yet be lost. We are saved only when we lay hold upon Christ by faith, when we receive him as our Lord and Savior. We see Christ as he is offered to sinners. When we take him as our Savior, appropriating the blessings of his cross and resurrection, we are saved. Faith means the acceptance of Christ—and the committing of our life to him.
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correcting and instruction in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17. The Bible is the Word of God. Holy men wrote it as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. When therefore we open the Scriptures—we know that it was God who wrote, through holy men, the words we read. There are other good books in the world—but none like the Bible. We ought to read it reverently, since is it God who speaks to us in its pages. We ought to believe it, for God's Word must be absolutely true. We ought to obey it, since what God commands must be right and the best for us. We ought to yield our whole life to its influence, to be molded by it, since it will fashion us into the divine likeness.
It is profitable for teaching—telling us things we could never learn anywhere else. It is profitable for reproof. We often need reproof, and the Word of God is faithful in telling us when we sin. It is profitable for correction. It would set us right when we are going wrong; it shows us the faults in our life or character, that we may put them away. It is profitable for instruction in righteousness—that is, in right things and right ways.
"So that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." The object of the Word of God—is to make godly men out of us. It we follow it in everything, that is what it will do. It will draw out every feature of Christly beauty. It will correct the faults and blemishes. It will develop our life at the points of weakness and incompleteness. It will prune off our sins—and strengthen our Christian graces and virtues. It will thoroughly equip us for every good work, preparing us for every duty.
2 Timothy 4:1-18
It is the year A.D. 64, and the great apostle is lying in a damp Roman prison cell waiting for his final trial. Two charges are filed against him; one, taking part in the burning of Rome, July 19, A.D. 64; the other, treason, in attempting to change the established customs of society and weaken imperial authority. All his friends, except Luke, have forsaken him; he is becoming nerved for martyrdom; before his fate is sealed—he writes a final farewell word to Timothy. He began, "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge!" 2 Timothy 4:1
Life is very serious. We are always standing before God who is our Judge. Our commonest days—are judgment days. We should learn to do everything 'in the presence of God'. This makes every word and act serious. If only we were more conscious of God and of eternity—we would live better!
"Preach the Word." Timothy was not making the most of himself. He seems to have been indolent—he was not preaching with the burning ardor which should characterize a minister of Christ. Paul wished to stir him up to do better work. He charges him to preach the Word, not only in season—at the stated times of public service—but out of season, wherever and whenever he had opportunity. Many of us are not making the most of our life. We are not doing our best in our efforts to help save the world. From this Roman prison comes the call to everyone to arouse his best energies in behalf of the kingdom of Christ.
"Reprove, rebuke, exhort with all patience." The minister is to watch the souls entrusted to his care—as a shepherd watches his sheep. Perhaps a word at the right time may prevent their wandering altogether away. Yet no duty of friendship is so difficult—as that of reproof or rebuke. Too often the word of admonition is sharp, bitter, and censorious. Paul wisely adds that we need to have all patience in our exhorting or rebuking of others. Words of reproof should always be spoken in love and patience.
Not always do people receive graciously the simple truths of God's Word. "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear!" Plain, old fashioned teaching is not brilliant enough to please them. The old, old story lacks interest, and they want something new. The fault is with the hearers, not with the teachers. "Take heed how you hear," is one of the Master's wise exhortations. Of course, one should teach well. There is no excuse for being boring or dull in presenting the truths of Christianity. Paul urges Timothy to do his part with earnestness for the very reason that the people would be apt to turn away to fables, instead of listening to the old gospel.
The words of exhortation are emphasized by Paul's closing message about himself. They were his parting thoughts. Before he had spoken of Timothy—now he spoke of himself, "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." 2 Timothy 4:6-8
"I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure." It is interesting to study Paul's view of death as we have a glimpse of it here. He thinks of it in two ways. He was about to die as a martyr, and this made his death an offering to God. His life would be poured out on the altar as a sacrifice.
Then he also thinks of it also as a departure, not the end of life—but a going away to another country. The body is only a temporary home, where the man stays for a while. At death he leaves it and goes on to his permanent abiding place. For the Christian dying is not the end—it is only a departure from the frail tabernacle—to the eternal house, from the body of weakness and mortality, to be at home with Christ. If we would think more of death in this Christian way, it would lose its terrors for us, and would come to appear as it is—but a momentary phase of life; an emerging from frailty, weakness and sin—into strength, perfectness and holiness.
"I have fought the good fight." Here we have Paul's retrospect. He saw his life under three different forms. It was a fight. He was not a quarrelsome man, and yet his life had been a fight from beginning to end. It was strife against sinfulness within him—and evil outside him. Life is not easy for anyone who tries to live worthily. We are always in the enemy's country until we pass over to glory. We can never lay off our armor, nor sheath our sword, nor cease to fight while we remain here in this sinful world. But we need not fail, for the Captain of our salvation is strong. He has met and conquered every enemy and will help us to be victorious, more than conquerors, if only we keep close to him and as he fights for us.
Paul thinks of his life also, as a race: "I have finished the race." Yonder is the goal, with the judge waiting to crown the successful competitor. Along the course are the witnesses, watching the contest, cheering their favorites. Paul had now run the race almost to the end. Just before him was the goal, and he saw the crown shining, ready to be put upon his brow. The racer strains every muscle, and puts all his strength into the race. So had Paul lived. We must do our very best always—if we would win in life's race.
Then life is also a trust, something given to keep and guard and use, and bring home at last unimpaired. "I have kept the faith." Everyone's life is a trust—something he has to answer for. Whatever God gives us—is a trust. The parable of the talents illustrates this. People should think of life and its privileges, as not their own—they receive all they have and are from God, not to be spent on their own pleasure—but for the blessing of others and then to be accounted for—not the bare talents merely as first received—but the talents increased by use. The story of the man with the one talent is forever a warning to all who do not make the most of their gifts and opportunities.
"Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." It was only a wreath of laurel that the ancient racer who first touched the goal received—but it is a crown of fadeless glory which every Christian racer will receive.
There is something to live for—besides the pleasure of success in this world. Those who live the life of faith will receive the crown of glory! One may even fail in this world's struggles, not making a success of his life, as men estimate life, and yet be wonderfully successful in the true sense, gaining eternal reward. If we live well in this present world—if we lay up treasures for ourselves in heaven!
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