His Achievement Are We
THERE ARE TIMES when the Word is held back rather than heralded. For example, some believers who hold to the teaching of the ultimate salvation of all feel that even though the teaching of the deity of God, His sole subjectorship, is true, its being made known will be more of a hindrance than a help to those to whom it is proclaimed. Although this teaching is considered important, they tend to set it aside. And even when it is considered in some measure, they may not speak of it with the openness and depth which other teachings enjoy.
It should not be assumed that there is never a place for such an approach, especially when we consider the dangers attending human pride when antagonized. Moreover, the power of tradition is great, and if we would contend against it, we must do so carefully and wisely. Indeed many of us, to our shame, have sometimes been imprudent and ungracious in sharing the Word of God with others. Yet though the importance of the manner in which we present truth must not be minimized, it should not be an excuse for not making the truth known.
Our motive for so doing is very important as well: Do we seek to glorify God and build up our brethren in the faith, or do we seek to exalt ourselves while being unmindful of the feelings of others? This is not to suggest that reserve is to be our constant companion. But there is a time for everything.
An extensive printed exposition such as the present work, which is prepared for the purpose of teaching and of encouragement in faithful service, can hardly have the advantages which are afforded private words among friends. So we commit it, as well as ourselves and all our brethren, to God, “and to the word of His grace which is able to edify” (Acts 20:32).
Things good in themselves, and very helpful to some, may not be helpful at present to those who are not yet ready for such “solid food” (1 Cor.3:2). “Now solid nourishment is for the mature, who, because of habit, have faculties exercised for discriminating between the ideal and the evil” (Heb.5:14). The ideal is to be “pursuing that which makes for peace and that which is for the edification of one another” (Rom.14:19). It is not that we are to be seeking peace at the price of truth, but that peace is to be our desire and active pursuit, for it is essential to the welfare of all. Still, there is a time, as Paul found with the immature Corinthians when it becomes needful to present vital revelations in a plain way, even at the risk of offense.
Some have said it is inadvisable to make various teachings known to young people, certainly including this one, as if it were somehow better for them to be instructed in error, or at least left to its influences. Surely this is a mistaken approach, for all scripture is beneficial (2 Tim.3:16), and the sacred writings are founded upon and filled with this teaching.
We seek to give no one cause to stumble in anything, even if we should fail in this at times. Besides, we can only serve others well, or at all, where God opens a door, an “operative” one ((cf) 1 Cor.16:9; cp Col.4:3). This is all we wish to do, having no taste for iconoclasm, or desire to disturb anyone. Yet it is important for us all to remember, “He who is not with Me is against me, and he who is not gathering with Me is scattering” (Matt.12:30).
Wherever truth of such great importance is opposed or neglected, in God’s wise counsels there always seems to be a struggle involved in making it known. And there is always a danger, due to the pressure of having been critically perceived as doing so, that in our own weakness, we will indeed be driven to the point of overemphasis or of becoming reactionary, or at least somehow become less than edifying in our presentations. Yet if this should occur, it would be more helpful if criticism—constructive criticism and support—could come from those who freely teach the truth. We trust that where God gives us grace to present this truth in wisdom, in a good spirit, and with patience, there will be little danger of actual overemphasis. Indeed, boldness is needed, and, so is loving-kindness.
By practicing protracted reserve and employing ambiguity of expression out of loving concern and a fear of offending certain ones, we fail to provide the instruction which is vital to the growth of those whom God may graciously enable through instruction to think sensibly and fairly and receive the clear declarations of Scripture. Boldness is not without drawbacks, yet it has a great many advantages. These thoughts are not presented as a criticism of any approach but as observations taught through experience.
It is a very difficult task to herald and teach the word concerning these matters. “And for this, who is competent?” (cp 2 Cor.2:16). May God be adapting us to do His will, “doing in us what is well pleasing in His sight,” that we may be offering divine service to Him (cf Heb.12:28; 13:21).
Let us not assume that some teachings are just “too dangerous” to be helpful. There is not a major revelation of Scripture which some have not appraised thus. Though it has often proved dangerous for truth to be placed in the hands of foolish men, in itself it is error, not truth, that is dangerous. Indeed, if men will wreak such havoc from the possession of truth, what will they do when entrusted with error?
If we would do well to emphasize and keep before us the truth of our security in Christ or the ultimate salvation of all, why should we not be similarly edified by a constant awareness that all things are of God, especially in light of the ever-present practical importance of this revelation?
If indeed we do live our lives by these principles, we also need to make this known to others in order to set an example and to help them do the same. In order for the heart to be touched, the mind must be instructed. Otherwise, we can do no more than “put on a fair face in the flesh” (cf Gal.6:12).
THE PHARISEES AND THE GALATIANS
This is the very point of the Lord’s figure, “whitewashed sepulchers,” concerning the hypocritical Pharisees: outside, indeed, they are “appearing beautiful,” yet inside they are crammed with the bones of the dead and all uncleanness. “Thus you, also, outside, indeed are appealing to men to be just, yet inside you are distended with hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt.23:27,28). Paul told the Galatians, “So foolish are you? Undertaking in spirit, are you now being completed in flesh?” (Gal.3:3). The Lord’s order of things is, “Cleanse first the inside of the cup and the plate, that their outside also may be becoming clean!” (Matt.23:26).
Those whose arrogance is apparent do not even have a fair face and do not even appear to men to be just. It is those who seem modest who are found commendable. Pride and self-righteousness, however, are not at all confined to those who are offensive and constant in talking about their own virtues and generally obnoxious about it, but include as well all who appear humble in manner but who nonetheless fail to believe that all good character, especially their own, is solely due to the grace of God, without any help from man. The self-righteous are those who “have confidence in themselves that they are just” (Luke18:9). For this reason, though they may well go through the motions of thanking God for their virtues, practically speaking and to no small degree, they pray these things toward themselves (Luke 18:11).
They boast of “letting” the Lord work in them and insist on having a “part” in it all, especially in the formation of personal uprightness. When all that God will do for them is finished, their salvation remains unfinished, awaiting their help to turn defeat into victory. Many are, so to speak, glad to travel “the sea and the dry land to make one proselyte” (cp Matt.23:15), zealously proclaiming, “Christ is the answer” while singing of “victory in Jesus,” but do they actually believe it?
The truth is, nearly all believe that it is not Christ at all, but some type of human cooperativeness that is the final solution to weaknesses of the flesh. Similarly, stripped of outward forms and nominal claims, victory is actually seen to consist not in the all-sufficient grace which is in Christ Jesus, but in the independent power that is said to inhere in the human will.
Such an approach is the essence of popular Christianity, ancient and modern. In fact, these are the Pharisees and Galatians of today. They may be friends of the Lord, but they are “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil.3:18). They are opposed to the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice in effecting salvation, and are antagonistic toward the glorious consequences which it alone ensures. For they boast of what they have done to be saved from wrath, or at least of what they must contribute if they would avoid an unworthy walk. “Now may it not be mine to be boasting, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal.6: 14). May it not be, through this present exposition, as with the Galatians toward Paul, that I “have become your enemy by being true to you” (cf Gal.5:16).
The Galatians had been “bewitched” (Gal.3:1), they were “under a spell” and in “the trap of the Adversary, having been caught alive by him, for that one’s will” (2 Tim.2:26). They had been transferred from the evangel of grace which Paul had first taught them, to a very different message (Gal.1:6), one in which the flesh had a vital place, that of “finishing up” what Christ had left undone.
Yet they were persuaded of this false message anyway, instead of the truth (Gal.5:7,8). Their only accord was with these deceptions. As to the evangel, “they [knew] nothing but to do evil” (cp Ecc.5:1). However well-intended and innocent in appearance it may be, evil includes—whether in word or in deed—all that is destructive, all that is the opposite of good. Therefore, Paul avers, “if ever we also, or a messenger out of heaven, should be bringing an evangel to you beside that which we bring to you, let him be anathema!” (Gal.1:8).
Paul had no illusions that, of themselves, the Galatians would respond to his entreaties. Instead, his prayer was that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ would be with their spirit, enlightening them anew (Gal.6:18). God “manifests His word in its own eras by heralding” (Titus 1:3; cp 1 Tim.2:6). And our hope is always, May this be the day, and our message the way.
Eventually, all in the province of Asia turned from the apostle Paul (2 Tim.1:15). By today’s foolish standards of success, the apostle to the nations would be an abject failure. “Howbeit, the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: The Lord knew those who are His, and, Let everyone who is naming the name of the Lord withdraw from injustice” (2 Tim.2:19). Injustice is not confined to external deeds, but includes what we believe and what we say as well. It is important, then, for us to be “sober, grave, sane, sound in the faith, in love, in endurance” (Titus 2:2).
SUFFERING EVIL WITH THE EVANGEL
If we would fully follow the apostle Paul, we will need to follow him not only in his “teaching,” but in his “motive, purpose, faith, patience, love, [and] endurance.” We will also find ourselves identifying with him in his “persecutions [and] sufferings, . . . persecutions such as I undergo, and out of them all the Lord rescues me” (2 Tim.3:10,11).
“The Lord is near” (Phil.4:5b), but we need to realize this and be aware of it. Let us not look to ourselves, but instead make our requests known to God concerning our need for this important realization and awareness. For we know and are certain that He shall be filling our every need, in accord with His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Phil.4:19). But concerning any particular need, we cannot say whether it will be met next week or in the next eon. We would have Him fill our needs whenever His own wisdom and purpose dictates, not every time our foolishness wishes to beg for an immediate deliverance from suffering.
Paul was afflicted in everything, perplexed and persecuted, yet he was not distressed, despairing, or forsaken (2 Cor.4:8,9). This was so, for the Lord was with Him: “Yet the Lord stood beside me, and He invigorates me, that through me the heralding may be fully discharged, and all the nations should hear; and I am rescued out of the mouth of the lion” (2 Tim.4:17). In spirit, by faith, we are aware that the Lord is with us as well, standing beside us in the work which He gives us to do. We find that He indeed invigorates us and that we accomplish all that He intends if not all that we desire.
It is His work, not ours (He is our Saviour, in grace are you saved!), to make His Word live in us, and to open our hearts to heed what is spoken by Paul. It is much better to wait upon Him and to trust in the ability of the word of His grace, “in its own eras,” than continually to conceive of ourselves as the key to success, and then fancy that we have achieved it simply because many of our acts may be upright.
It simply will not do to point to all the good that is present in men’s behavior and then give credit to the flesh for the existence thereof. What an insult this is to God! No human virtue is due to ourselves but is a resultant phenomenon produced by the spirit of God which effects good characteristics to some degree in the lives of all.
Galatians 5:19-23 contrasts what man in his present state is able to do of himself (“the works of the flesh”), with what the imperceptible power of God is able to produce in him (“the fruit of the spirit”). The figure “the flesh” points to our own inherent weakness. The figure “the spirit” (pneuma, BLOW-effect, “blast” or “wind”) points to God’s great power. Just look at the shameful sins of the flesh and consider what we can do! The works of the flesh are adultery, prostitution, uncleanness, wantonness, idolatry, enchantment, enmities, strife, jealousies, furies, factions, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkennesses, revelries, and the like of these. If we did have a “part” in it all—if we had been called upon to assist in our own salvation—the works of the flesh would be our only offering.
THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT
So let us turn away from a consideration of man’s depravities to gaze upon the glory of those marvels which God alone can create even in such ones as ourselves. The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control.
Here we see the practical value of heralding the Word. It is an exercise that dwells on the glory of God and His achievement. Joy and peace especially are the fruit of confidence in the Deity, and of assurance that He is doing all things well. The conviction that His love is fully triumphant is a genuine source for the walk of love. That all is of God leads to genuine meekness, and that all is for good to kindness, goodness, and faithfulness. The assurance that God is in full control is the proper and only effectual motivation for self-control.
There is a world of difference between fleshly discipline and spiritual self-control. True self-control, in the scriptural sense, is a thing of purity, for it is a fruit of the spirit. Unless good deeds are performed under the influence of God’s love or because of the assurance of His deity, they are actually works of the flesh. Inner motive must be distinguished from outward result. Even if many of his deeds are disciplined, “he who is sowing for his own flesh, from the flesh shall be reaping corruption” (Gal.6:8a). External morality is often the product of sinful motives. Stronger lusts of the flesh merely restrain weaker ones when the latter fail to serve the purpose of the former.
The apostle presents these striking contrasts between the flesh and the spirit for the consideration of the Galatians. They were under the delusion that they themselves were capable of “completing” if God would only “begin”: “So foolish are you? Undertaking in spirit, are you now being completed in flesh?” (Gal.3:3).
The contrast is not between, as popularly imagined, the deeds of “Christians” and “non-Christians,” but between that which proceeds from the old humanity in itself and that which God is able to produce in such ones nonetheless—whether they be believers or unbelievers.
Though it is humiliating to the flesh, if we are to do what is pleasing to God, God must see to it that we do so. He not only does not need our help, but He will not have our help. He will bless us as He intends and when He intends, not otherwise or before.
“The Lord will be rescuing me from every wicked work and will be saving me for His celestial kingdom” (2 Tim.4:18a). Salvation and glory and power is of our God (Rev.19:lb). This is the word which we herald; it has even become the testimony of our conscience (cp 2 Cor.1:12). Our God is great, and greatly to be praised, “to Whom be the glory for the eons of the eons. Amen!” (2 Tim.4:18b).
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