Check Your Panoply
WHEN WE READ the apostle’s earliest epistle which he wrote to the saints in Thessalonica we can see his earnest desire to continue widening the range of faith of these young believers. Judging from his comment on Timothy’s report, Paul was satisfied that his toil in that city had not been for naught; now he knew of their faith (1 Thess.3:1-8). Hence he would not want to criticize it, as if it were inadequate in amount. For instance, he would have had no reason at all to call them scant of faith, and, as a matter of fact, he never uses this expression.
SCANT OF FAITH
It occurs only in Matthew and in Luke when our Lord wanted to encourage His little flocklet not to worry about eating and drinking and clothing (Matt.6:30-34; Luke 12:27-32), when the disciples on the lake were afraid of drowning because of the storm (Matt.8:23-26), when Peter hesitated to continue walking on the water (Matt.14:31), when the disciples worried about their next meal, after the Lord had fed 5000 people with five cakes of bread and again 4000 with seven cakes (Matt.16:7-12), and when the signs and miracles (which accompanied the kingdom proclamation) were gradually vanishing and the disciples were unable to cure the epileptic son (Matt.17:14-20). Here the Lord called their unbelief scant faith. All these occurrences, however, are relevant to the kingdom proclamation; and the term, scant of faith, is used only in connection with some physical need, as we have seen. Since our Lord is the only One Who ever used the two terms under consideration, it follows that at that time no one else felt entitled to do so. Being under grace, even a man like Paul would never dare call any one “scant of faith.” Judgment and criticism in this sphere is strictly reserved to the Lord (compare 2 Tim.2:19).
THE DEFICIENCIES OF YOUR FAITH
Now we will admit that Paul had something different in mind when he wrote, “For what thanksgiving are we able to repay to God concerning you for all the joy with which we are rejoicing because of you in front of our God, night and day superexcessively beseeching to see your face and to readjust the deficiencies of your faith” (1 Thess.3:9,10). The apostle does not consider the Thessalonians’ faith as being too scanty; it is rather the deficiency in their knowledge of the truth to which he is pointing. He wants to add a new truth to their range of faith, such as that developed in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, where we read, “The Lord Himself will be descending from heaven . . . and the dead in Christ shall be rising first. Thereupon we, the living who are surviving, shall at the same time be snatched away together with them in clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. And thus shall we always be together with the Lord. So that, console one another with these words!”
PUTTING ON THE CUIRASS OF FAITH AND LOVE
While Paul, in Ephesians 6:14, uses the term cures in order to describe the security afforded by righteousness, he employs the same figure of speech in 1 Thessalonians 5:8 to emphasize the general protection presently given by sober faith and gracious love.
During this secret administration of the grace of God (Eph. 3:2,9) true faith does not look for signs, but rather believes such divine declarations as given in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Gracious love should characterize all our contacts with fellow saints and fellow men, acknowledging those over us and patiently bearing with those below us. Only when we stand firm in the faith and let all our actions occur in love (1 Cor.16:13,14)—only then can we fully enjoy the salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for our sakes, that, whether we may be watching or drowsing, we should be living at the same time together with Him, consoling one another with divine declarations (such as quoted in 1 Thessalonians 4:17). And faith and love together will prompt us to follow the apostle’s admonitions, given in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.
CONSOLED TOGETHER THROUGH ONE ANOTHER’s FAITH
After Timothy had been sent to the Thessalonians to establish and console them for the sake of their faith, and had come back, bringing with him the evangel of their individual faith and love, the apostle was, indeed, consoled through their faith, and was able to repay thanksgiving to God for them and beseech Him for an opportunity to readjust the deficiencies in their range of faith as we have seen. Now the Thessalonians were not the only ones whose individual faith toward God had come out (all over Macedonia and Achaia and everywhere). We find a similar line of thought in the first part of Romans (1:8-12).
“First, indeed, I am thanking my God through Jesus Christ concerning all of you, that your faith is being announced in the whole world. For God is my witness, to Whom I am offering divine service in my spirit in the evangel of His Son, how unintermittingly I am making mention of you, always in my prayers beseeching, if somehow, sometime, at length I shall be prospered, in the will of God, to come to you. For I am longing to see you, that I may be sharing some spiritual grace with you, for you to be established: yet this is to be consoled together among you through one another’s faith, both yours and mine.”
SHARING SOME SPIRITUAL GRACE
When comparing these verses in the first Roman chapter with the corresponding declaration in the first Thessalonian epistle, we will find that Paul’s task of “readjusting the deficiencies” corresponds to what in Romans 1:11 is described as “sharing some spiritual grace with you,” namely such grace as they had not yet heard of. While the Thessalonians needed information on meeting the Lord in the air, the Romans were still ignorant as to justification, conciliation, and God’s sovereignty. Now it is through the function of their individual faith toward God and His Word that these spiritual graces are received, thus widening the range of their faith, as may be gathered from the following quotations from UNSEARCHABLE RICHES, volume 31, beginning on page 139, volume 36, page 173, and volume 39, page 12.
THE FUNCTION OF FAITH
“It has been suggested that faith is an act of merit on our part which procures justification, and all who do not obey in this way, do not deserve it. What a travesty of the truth! Faith has exactly the contrary function. Because it has no merit, it is the only requirement in this economy of purest and fullest favor. Any other condition would clash with it, but faith, having no deserts, is in full-harmony with grace (Rom.4:16). Even faith obedience does not consist of acts performed in order to deserve God’s gifts, but is a figure in which the obedience to God’s law is displaced by faith in His Word. Faith is merely the channel through which grace may operate. It cannot act through works or attainments of any kind. These can only nullify its effects.
“Faith is the channel of justification and should exclude all works, yet in these days even faith has been degraded to a meritorious act. To show the real character of grace as well as to guard the sense in which we fall out of it, we should closely follow the apostle’s argument in Romans, especially the astonishing question asked in the sixth chapter, ‘shall we declare that we may be persisting in sin that grace should be increasing?’ That grace is increased by persistence in sin is quite the contrary to the teaching of Christendom. Alas! very few of us are able to realize it in our daily lives, and, as a consequence, we are still seeking something in ourselves and are dissatisfied with our attainments, and actually do persist in sin without the sense of grace which should relieve us of this load. This question tears away the veil which is between our hearts and grace, and reveals it in all its comforting and captivating loveliness. We think that sin increases judgment, and so it does for the unbeliever. But for us sin increases grace. This is the great emancipation proclamation which so few of us have ever taken to heart. In their experience and realization and appreciation the Galatians were no longer in grace, seeing that they sought to add meritorious acts of their own to perfect God’s favor. This is the case today with almost all of us, but it is a sin, and therefore, on God’s side, only increases grace, though, on our side, it robs us of the enjoyment of God’s gratuities.
FAITH IS THE CHANNEL
“In Paul’s latest and highest revelation an appeal is made to the fact that salvation is through faith (Eph.2:8), as heralded in Paul’s evangel, and is in grace. The point is that the condition of salvation which is ours through faith, apart from works, is in the sphere of grace; hence we were vivified together with the Circumcision recipients of Paul’s evangel, when Christ was vivified. Such a blessing could not come to any mortal on the ground of attainment, but ‘justified by faith . . . we have the access also, by faith, into this grace in which we stand’ (Rom.5: 1,2). This is enlarged upon in one of the most precious passages even in the precious Ephesian epistle. ‘For in grace are you saved, through faith, and this is not out of you; it is God’s approach offering, not of works, lest anyone should be boasting. For His achievement are we, being created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God makes ready beforehand, that we should be walking in them.’ The scene of our salvation is not in ourselves or our deeds, but in God’s favor. He is the One Who is working and even prepares the good works which we may do.
JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH
“Abraham is set before us as the great example of justification by faith. In the epistle to the Romans, after showing that no one comes up to the standard of God’s glory, Paul makes known the foundation truth of the evangel of the Uncircumcision, that justification is by gratuitous grace, through faith (Rom.3:22-26). He then enlarges on this and shows that Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised. Let us consider briefly, what Paul reveals concerning this great grace. To begin with, he tells us that his evangel is God’s power for salvation to everyone who is believing because in it God’s righteousness is revealed for faith (Rom.1:16,17). Here we have a tremendous contrast to almost all previous revelation. There we are occupied with man’s righteousness or rather unrighteousness, from Adam on, and especially after Israel was given the law of Moses. Hitherto God’s righteousness condemned man. Now it is made a part of the evangel to save him. Heretofore the revelation of His justice was against all because of their unrighteous acts, now it is on all who are believing because it is a gratuitous gift of grace bestowed on men for their faith (Rom.3:21-24). Hitherto man has sought to display his righteousness through his deeds, and failed. Now God displays His righteousness by justifying those who believe, and it is an unqualified success (Rom.3:24-26).
THROUGH THE FAITH OF CHRIST—FOR OUR FAITH
“No man, of course, could acquire God’s righteousness by means of his deeds. At best he could only establish one of his own. Nor can a man acquire his own righteousness by believing. It is God’s righteousness that is reckoned ours by faith. The only One Who knew no sin was made a sin offering for our sakes that we may be becoming God’s righteousness in Him (2 Cor.5:21). It is a righteousness of God through Jesus Christ’s faith, for all, and on all who are believing; it is out of His faith for our faith (Rom.1:17; 3:22). Hence Paul says, “Not having my righteousness . . . but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is from God for faith’ (Phil.3:9).
“Why should faith be reckoned for righteousness? Whatever is not of faith is sin. What God says is supremely right, and it is a mistake not to assent to it. Confidence in God is the aim and object of all human experiences, along with distrust in man. At the consummation, God will become All in all, and man nothing in anyone. Whatever leads in that direction is in accord with God’s purpose and will. When God speaks, no matter what He says, the only right lies in confidence in and conformity to His revelation. This alone will guide us to the universal goal. Nothing, therefore, can be more righteous than faith; it not only is right, but guides the believer aright, along the path that leads to the bread and wine of God, the life and joy which await all creation at the consummation. Those who have no faith, cannot but stray from the way. They follow false trails that lead away from the goal. Even those who are respectable, and who know nothing of sordid sins, are bound to miss the path apart from faith. It is impossible to be right unless we believe what God has revealed: faith is reckoned for righteousness (Rom.4:5,6).
GOD IS CONCILIATED
“Here is an evangel we can preach without reservations. It is really good news. It is true whether it is accepted or not, for it has two grades or degrees, one for the unbeliever and an added one for the believer. God is conciliated to both. Man is conciliated only if he believes. God is not reconciling the world now, as the Authorized Version says; He is rather ‘conciliating the world to Himself’ (2 Cor.5:19), and refuses to fight with it now, but sends us as ambassadors of peace who refuse to hold men’s offenses against them. So long as we are here, God is at peace with the world, no matter how much they may offend him, and wish to war with Him. Today the cross avails to conciliate the world, and to reconcile those who receive the conciliation.
EONIAN BLESSINGS ARE ONLY FOR FAITH
“Until we believe, the eonian blessings are in no sense our due through Christ’s death, for all that He did was for our sake, not in our stead. The eonian fruits of His sacrifice are only for faith. After the eons, then, indeed, the value of His sufferings and death will overflow to all, for then reconciliation will reach the whole universe (Col.1:20). But those then reconciled with God will miss the bliss of eonian salvation which is the subject of the evangel, as well as the high honors which are ours with Christ in His celestial kingdom.
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