April, 2009

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Who Killed The Bible Reading?

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Believers that seek to meet according to the New Testament pattern for assembly gathering have been blessed with a long succession of gifted teachers over the past one hundred and eighty years. Men like John Nelson Darby, William Kelly, C.A. Coates, Henry Soltau, Edward Dennett, John Gifford Bellett, Frederick W. Grant, and Charles Henry Mackintosh helped their own generation, as well as subsequent generations through their spiritually sound writings. Many of their works originated in public “conversational Bible readings” that were held throughout the English-speaking world. These meetings consisted of a gifted brother leading the study, coupled with the contributions of other exercised brethren. The study leader would typically introduce the passage to be studied, and then allow time for questions and comments by other Christians. While there are many other viable formats for corporate Bible studies, this method allows for different believers to exercise their gifts (in keeping with the spirit of passages like 1 Cor.14:26-35.) Furthermore, it generates interesting and edifying discussion, bringing out the many faceted depth of the scriptures. Bible readings were once a fixture in the meetings of God’s assemblies throughout North America. In recent times, however, many assemblies have abandoned them in favor of regular preaching services. While these preaching meetings are biblical and valuable, it is the author’s firm conviction that there is still a valid place for the Bible reading in our gatherings. It would no doubt be instructive to ask ourselves why the Bible readings have been forsaken by numerous assemblies. Certainly part of the reason must be that the discussions among the participating brethren often degenerated into meaningless debates on various controversial subjects; alas, in many cases this has been the case. Two solutions would help avert such theological quagmires. First, the brother who leads the study should ideally be a seasoned man of God, adept in the Word and diplomatic in his dealings with others. With such a leader, arguments could quickly be dispensed with, and the study could be kept moving at a decent pace. Secondly, if a brother is a consistent disruption to the study, he could be gently approached about refraining from controversial subjects that would hurt the saints (if he refuses this admonition, Scripture gives clear instructions for how he is to be dealt with. E.g. 2 Tim.2:24-26; Titus 3:10.)
The ill-preparedness of the brethren of the assembly is another malady that has aided in the near extinction of the Bible reading.1 Long pauses, disjointed comments, and tangents that are unrelated to the text are all symptoms of the failure of many of the brethren to come prepared for the study. In some instances, brothers read lengthy sections from commentaries in lieu of making their own comments. While commentaries are helpful tools, they are no replacement for informed remarks from Christians who have diligently studied a passage. It is evident that not all brethren are gifted in teaching. Nevertheless, there are some brothers who do have this gift, but choose not to develop or exercise it as they should. Perhaps the most troubling factor of the death of the Bible reading is that it indicates a low appreciation for the Word and failure to seriously study it among the brethren of the assemblies. Let us pray for wisdom and diligence in studying the Scriptures that meetings such as the useful Bible reading may be recovered and revitalized in our gatherings.
1 Undoubtedly the prayers of the sisters also go along way in preparing the assembly for the Bible reading.

To download the rest of the article in PDF: Who Killed The Bible Reading?

Lessons From The Upper Room

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Throughout the Lord’s Upper Room discourse, He demonstrates His deity. Perfect knowledge and perfect love are two of the most frequently displayed divine attributes in this section of God’s Word. As one reads His final teaching to the disciples before the Cross, one realizes that He is in total control of the circumstances, and is working all things together for their (and our) good. Christ’s all-encompassing knowledge and unlimited love provides the assurance of the Almighty’s ability to channel all events for the accomplishment of His will and the believer’s eternal blessing.
The Introductory Statement Reveals His Complete Knowledge
John 13:1 reads: “Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” The impending betrayal, arrest, trials, and crucifixion did not take the Lord Jesus by surprise. He knew that His hour had come. Previously, He had evaded unwanted attention and life-threatening danger, because His time had not yet come (Jn. 2:4; 7:6, 30; 8:20.) Now it is upon Him, and He approaches the hour with calm determination, knowing that these events will accomplish the divine mission of redemption, eventually leading Him back to eternal glory with the Father (Jn. 13:1; 17:5.)
Several times the Lord informs His disciples of coming events in order that they may look back on that dark night, and realize that it all unfolded “according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23.) He openly tells them this in John 13:23: “Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am He.” In preparing them for His physical departure, Christ identifies His betrayer, clearly predicts the persecution that the disciples will face in the world, and details the coming of the Holy Spirit, as well as other future events (Jn. 13:10-11, 21, 25; 16:1-4; 14:16-17.) If He had not mentioned these things, after they occurred the disciples might wonder if the Lord was ignorant of the happenings that led Him to the Cross. With His perfect foreknowledge, however, the Lord Jesus displays compassion for them. Now they could look back and say, “The Lord knew it all the time! It all took place according to His will. He went willingly to Calvary.”
The Introductory Statement Reveals His Unlimited Love
The second half of John 13:1 says that the Lord “having loved His own who were in the world loved them to the end.” Some scholars translate the last phrase: “to the uttermost” or “to the fullest extent possible.” His love not only encompassed all of His dealings with the disciples, it also surpasses anything else in its quality. This type of love is humble (as seen in the feet-washing, Jn. 13:4-11), faithful in the face of the disciples’ unfaithfulness (Jn. 13:26-14:3; 16:31-33), and makes provision for their ongoing instruction, protection, and comfort (Jn. 14:16-27.)
The caliber of this love is evidenced by our Lord’s own description of the greatest demonstration of love: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13.) In thinking of the Lord’s sacrificial death for them, His disciples could not deny that His love transcends anything else in the world. Romans 5:8 reminds us that “…while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” We could not even say that we were His friends in our natural, lost state. He loved us when we were unlovely, and brought us freely into the fellowship of His love by grace. Indeed, this is a love that goes beyond the world’s usual trite usage of the word.
Love: The Believer’s Natural Habitat
Christ’s love has a powerful impact on the life of a believer. He describes the practical significance of love in the Upper Room teaching. His doctrine may be outlined thus:
1. Love’s Standard: Jn. 13:34 – “…as I have loved you” – It humbly imitates Christ’s selfless love.
2. Love’s Requirement: Jn. 14:21 – “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me…” – It obeys Christ’s Word. Compare 14:31 where Christ shows the world His love for the Father through obedience to the latter’s command, which will lead Him to the death of the Cross.
3. Love’s Result: Jn. 15:9-10, 13, 16 – “…ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain…” – It produces the Vine’s fruit in the believers’ lives, while they lay down their lives for each other.
4. Love’s Completion: Jn. 17:26 – “…that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them” – It unites them with the love of the Father and the Son.
Therefore, love has a dramatic practical effect on the believer by leaving an example of humility, obedience, and fruitfulness. Manifesting the love of Christ towards one another is the mark of true discipleship (Jn. 13:35.)
The Lord’s perfect knowledge and love repeatedly appear in John 13-17, showing their essential part in the accomplishment of God’s will. As Christ sends forth His followers into the world as witnesses, they go forth accompanied by the Triune God, Who knows all. There are no obstacles that He is unaware of, nor any problems that He cannot solve. What is more, His love ensures their protection, provision, and empowerment. The love that led the Savior to Calvary and the tomb will surely not spare anything in working for their good. The love that conquered death through resurrection will ultimately take believers to the Father’s house, where they will eternally behold the Christ’s glory (Jn. 14:1-3; 17:24.) Nothing can defeat the Lord Jesus Christ, nor thwart His purposes. As Romans 8:37 says: “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”

To download the rest of this article in PDF: Lessons From The Upper Room

The True Identity of Christ

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

The Lord Jesus Christ has impacted world history more than any other great historical figure. Like other famous individuals, Christ’s real identity is the subject of great debate among scholars & ordinary people alike. Such disagreement is neither surprising, nor new. During His own time, many questions swirled around the person of the famed preacher from Nazareth. When He asked His disciples: “Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?”, they responded by linking Him with great religious men of the past. Jesus led them into this line of conversation during a visit to Caesarea Philippi, a city whose name was synonomous with idolatry.
In Ancient Israel, this city boasted noted shrines to various pagan deities. In this place, which was associated with man’s false concept of the nature of God, Jesus asked them: “But whom say ye that I am?” Simon Peter was quick to answer: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The Lord Jesus commended him for this correct response, & pointed out that this had been made known to Peter by God the Father Himself. He discloses that He is the Christ, the long promised Savior. What’s more, in contrast to the many statues of wood, stone, & metal at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus was shown to be the Son of the Living God. He is not a son of God in some generic sense; rather He was God the Father’s Son, co-equal with the Father & the Holy Spirit. Here was God manifest in human flesh, revealing Himself to His creatures.
Matthew records the startling teaching that came next: “From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.” The disciples were understandably perplexed. Peter even began to rebuke the Lord. They could not fathom how the long promised Christ—God the Son—could suffer a shameful end like crucifixion. This form of execution was reserved for the lowest type of criminal. Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus willingly endured the Cross, bearing the sin of mankind, in order to provide a way of salvation for helpless sinners like each of us. As John 3:16 expresses it: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The reality of this promise is demonstrated by the fact that the Lord Jesus rose again from the dead, & ever lives to save those who will repent & place their faith in His completed work on the Cross.

To download the rest of the article in PDF: The True Identity Of Christ

The Rise of Joshua

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

“We never hear of great men until the time when all other men are small,” wrote the late nineteenth century British author Gilbert Keith Chesterton. Momentous times produce leaders of renown. Joshua came on the scene when Israel desperately needed spiritual, courageous leadership. Moses, Aaron, & the rest of the old guard (except the venerable Caleb) had passed on, and the nation was on the verge of a major military campaign to occupy the promised land. The Son of Nun had been the heir-apparent to Moses’ leadership position for sometime; now God brought him to the forefront of national affairs. Numbers 27:18-21 indicates this change in power: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him; And set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight. And thou shalt put some of thine honor upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient. And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the Lord: at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation.”
As with all great leaders, Joshua had formative experiences that shaped his character and prepared him for his future role as a general and ruler. His early successes as a warrior, coupled with his devotion to the Lord and Moses, equipped him for a glorious career as the Conqueror of Canaan. Perceiving the importance of Joshua’s training under Moses is an essential prerequisite for understanding the mature leader who took Israel into the Promise Land.
Joshua: The Warrior
Significantly, the first time one reads of Joshua is in a martial context (most scholars agree that he was probably about forty-five years old at this time.) Ex.17:8-16 details the insidious attack upon Israel by their inveterate enemies, the Amalekites. Israel vanquished their foes by looking to the Lord for help. Overlooking the battlefield, Moses sat upon a rock with the rod of God and his own hands raised; below in the thick of the fight, Joshua led the troops into combat. The combination of the former’s intercession with the latter’s bravery proved to be lethal to the marauding Amalekites. The scriptural account concludes with these significant words: “And Joshua broke the power of Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. And Jehovah said to Moses, Write this [for] a memorial in the book, and rehearse [it] in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under the heavens. And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-nissi. And he said, For the hand is on the throne of Jah; Jehovah will have war with Amalek from generation to generation!” (Ex.17:13-16, JND.) Joshua was never to forget the treachery of Amalek and their destiny to be wiped out by the Lord’s forces wherever they might be found. This incident also bolstered his confidence in the power of God, who would be the source of all of his future victories.
Joshua: The Understudy
The Bible is filled with stories of mentors and protégés such as Samuel and David, Elijah and Elisha, and Paul and Timothy. For a young believer to have spiritual guidance from an older, more seasoned man or woman of God, is a very valuable asset. These wise veterans of the pathway of faith provide warnings against potential pitfalls, correction for mistakes, and encouraging words in times of distress. In his early days we find that Joshua was continually in the presence of Moses as his devoted helper. From companying with the meekest man on the earth, Joshua learned important lessons of patient restraint and decisive action. When Moses went up Mount Sinai to meet with God, Joshua accompanied him part way, and faithfully awaited his return. (Ex.24:13.) Already, Joshua was known as Moses’ “attendant” (or “servant” according to other translations.) While the nation below was reveling in their idolatry and other immoral celebrations, the Son of Nun was occupied with the spiritual activities on the mount. Although he could not ascend all the way with Moses, he was as near as possible. Even at this early stage in his career, he was concerned with the things of God.
It is important that Christians devote themselves to spiritual things as soon as possible. Attendance at the meetings of the local assembly, personal Bible study, prayer, serving others, and witnessing are all activities to which young Christians need to dedicate themselves. Preparations are often made for secular vocations, but how much do believers today get ready for spiritual service? Many times young Christians go through academic training to become equipped for the Lord’s work. Apart from real life experience, however, this can result in top-heavy Christianity (that is, mental faculties that are overdeveloped at the expense of practical spiritual growth.) Joshua’s training took place in the company of an experienced man of God in the midst of the real struggles of daily life. Everyday problems taught him dependence on the Lord.
That Joshua benefited from spending time with Moses was apparent during their descent of the mount. When the two men heard noise in the camp, the younger warrior mistook the noise for battle. The elder man correctly identified it as singing. Moses had been forewarned by God of the Israelites’ sin. Thus, he told Joshua the real situation: Israel was engaging in shameful debauchery around the Golden Calf. The mentor’s wisdom instructed the young man, and gave him a valuable lesson in discernment. Moses further taught Joshua to esteem the Lord’s honor and the good of the people above personal zeal for his own reputation and clout. When the Lord appointed seventy of the elders to assist Moses in governing the people, two of these men remained in the camp, prophesying (as opposed to doing this at the Tabernacle.) The Son of Nun saw this as a threat to his teacher’s authority. Moses corrected him, however, saying “Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!” (Num.11:29, NKJV) This correction reminds one of a similar lesson that the disciples learned from the Lord Jesus (Mk.9:38-39.) A student’s loyalty should be to God alone with no taint of parochial or sectarian attitudes.
Joshua: Zealous for the person of God
Ex.33 records for us Moses pitching the “Tent of Meeting’ in order to speak with the Lord. When he departed from the Tent, verse eleven tells the reader that “his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle.” Most commentators agree that he stayed behind to guard the holy site. Whether this be the reason, or whether he remained there to worship, one can see his keen interest in this holy place where God’s glory was regularly seen.
Joshua: The Faithful Spy
Certainly the most famous incident in the Son of Nun’s early career was his participation in the military reconnaissance of Canaan. Twelve spies were selected to go on this mission, which required exploration skills, stealth, and courage. Each of the tribes produced a prince for this arduous scouting assignment. The fact that Joshua was among them gives an indication of his importance to his native tribe, Ephraim. Like his celebrated ancestor Joseph, Joshua was a dependable man who succeeded in every undertaking. Young believers need to remember that God’s way is to begin with faithfulness in small tasks and then take on greater responsibility as the Lord leads. In the parable of the ten pounds the Lord Jesus commended the wise servant, saying: “…because thou hast been faithful in that which is least, be thou in authority over ten cities.” (Lk.19:17, JND) The servants chosen to distribute aid to the early church’s widows were selected because they had previously proved themselves to be “of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.” (Acts 6:3, NKJV) Similarly, an elder was not to be “a novice.” (1 Tim.3:6) Advancement in the things of God is based upon reliability in past service. At the time of this event, he was still called “Oshea” (meaning “Deliverance/Salvation.”) In honor of his past devotion to God and recognizing his future exploits in dependence on the Almighty, Moses re-named him “Jehoshua” (shortened to “Joshua”–“Salvation of Jah.” See Num.11:16.) Similar to the elongation of “Abram” (“High Father”) to Abraham (“Father of a Multitude”), this new moniker reflected greater trust in the Lord with better results. The name was a harbinger of the bright future ahead when Moses’ trustworthy aide-de-camp would succeed his mentor as commander in chief.
Caleb and Joshua agreed that the task was achievable. When the other ten spies began to argue against the mission, Caleb urged the people to obey the Lord, saying: “…Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.” (Num.13:30) Nevertheless, the other scouts reasoned based on sight, affirming that the odds of success were negligible. They told a tale of giants and mighty, fortified cities. The two faithful spies asserted that God would give Israel the victory no matter what foes they faced. To the detriment of the nation, human reasoning and emotion prevailed in the discussion. The Israelites wept and said the unthinkable: “Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness! And wherefore hath the LORD brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a
prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt? And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.” (Num.14:2-4) This apostasy resulted in that entire adult generation missing the opportunity to enter the Promised Land. Moses and Aaron mourned, and Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes in grief. Only these latter two would make it into their inheritance. Sadly they would have to wait forty years in order to enter Canaan. This tragic story reminds one that the godly often find themselves in the minority. Even when others depart, however, the Christian must side with the Lord by obeying His Word. Joshua and Caleb withstood enormous peer pressure, and remained faithful to the One Who delivered them from Egypt. Consequently, He honored their loyalty by preserving them for the conquest of the Land.
The Commission
The early career of Joshua, marked by numerous celebrated deeds, led into a brighter future as the great leader of Israel into the Promised Land. Before his death, Moses commissioned his right-hand lieutenant to “Be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the LORD hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it. And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.” (Dt.31:7-8) It is delightful to read these final words from the older servant to his replacement; they are entirely without envy or ill feeling. Moses had done his part in preparing the next generation of leadership, and Joshua had responded with steady spiritual growth. Likewise, it is imperative that the elders of today’s assemblies pass on the truth and the responsibility to capable younger men. 2 Tim.2:2 sets forth this truth: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” The well-crafted words of John McClintock and James Strong, two biblical scholars of a bygone era, are a fitting summary of the Son of Nun’s exceptional career: “Joshua’s life has been noted as one of the very few which are recorded in history with some fullness of detail, yet without any stain upon them. In his character have been traced, under an Oriental garb, such features as chiefly kindled the imagination of Western chroniclers and poets in the Middle Ages: the character of a devout warrior, blameless and fearless, who has been taught by serving as a youth how to command as a man; who earns by manly vigor a quiet, honored old age; who combines strength with gentleness, ever looking up for and obeying the divine impulse with the simplicity of a child, while he wields great power and directs it calmly, and without swerving, to the accomplishment of a high, unselfish purpose.” (Article on “Joshua”, John McClintock and James Strong, The Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, & Ecclesiastical Literature, CD-ROM edition, Ages Digital Software, 2000.)

To download the rest of the article in PDF: The Rise Of Joshua

The Origin Of Despotism

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

The international scene is littered with conflicts, stemming from the desires of competing power blocs who struggle for hegemony on the world stage. Great despots like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Attila the Hun, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Adolf Hitler – to name a few – have all shared a desire to obtain power and enjoy the conquest of large swathes of territory. The Lord Jesus noted this propensity of the Gentiles for power mongering, telling His disciples that the Kingdom of God operates on entirely different principles (Mat. 20:25-26.) Man’s struggle for tyrannical power goes back to ancient times. God commissioned Adam and his descendants to have dominion over the earth. Nevertheless, since the Fall the God-given impulse to rule over the planet has been corrupted by sin. Man now wants to oppress his fellow man. By investigating the ancient records of the birth of empires, one may glean instruction for both the current and future situation.
Genesis 10:8-11 introduces us to the first emperor, a fearsome ruler ominously named Nimrod (“Rebellion/Valiant” Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon.) His chief credential as a leader was his martial skill, described as “a valiant warrior” and “a mighty hunter before the Lord” (v.8, NET.) The margin of The New English Translation notes that the phrase “before the Lord” can be used “…as a means of expressing the superlative degree.” In other words, it is a Semitic way of saying that he was the greatest hunter – one who had no equal in combat. Interestingly, words from the same Hebrew root are used in the Old Testament to describe hunting for men (e.g. Jer. 16:16.) Nimrod was indeed a hunter, but his quarry was not deer or lions – it was his fellow man!
Through his military prowess Nimrod assembled a kingdom that was the cradle of the greatest civilizations of the Near East, including Akkad, Assyria, and Babylonia (vs. 10-12.) Genesis 11 gives the account of his followers’ vain attempt to establish a power that could rival Heaven itself. Rather than subdue the earth for God’s glory, they wanted to unite in a project that would demonstrate their numerical strength and leave behind a monument to their architectural genius and engineering skill. What is more, this grandiose public works project would keep them from being scattered over the earth (v. 4.) By working together they would become a cohesive unit that would collectively exercise power. Furthermore, they would construct an immense edifice to their own glory: “a tower whose top may reach unto heaven” (v. 4.) It was a statement of human strength and wisdom independent of their Maker, flaunted in the face of the God of the Heavens.
With man arrogantly taunting the Almighty with this expression of defiance, it is ironic that God had to stoop to see their puny tower: “And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower…” (v. 5.) It looked big from the human perspective, but from God’s viewpoint it was miniscule. Likewise, contemporary man makes great plans and undertakes ambitious projects, but it is all of no account in the sight of the Most High God. His sovereignty is absolute and therefore is not threatened by the machinations of
proud men. He quickly brought the matter to an end by confounding their language into many diverse tongues.
In spite of God’s greatness and man’s comparative frailty, human beings continually overestimate their own importance. The modern onset of a formal philosophy called “Humanism” is merely a restatement of the ancient lie in the garden, “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5, ESV.) Man always sees himself as the center of the universe. If he thinks of God at all, he exiles the Almighty to the marginal role of being a sort of celestial Santa Claus – someone to call upon when he wants something or is in some kind of trouble. The Lord is certainly not viewed by man as someone who commands human reverence and accountability.
Like the ancient builders of Babel, contemporary humans want to make a name for themselves. Thus, their scientific advances and artistic achievements are adduced as proof of their intelligence – not as evidence of the brilliance of the Creator of the human mind. This preoccupation with man as the measure of all things will ultimately culminate in the deification of humankind in the person of the Man of Sin (2 Thes. 2:3-12.) The Lord Jesus referred to this when He said: “I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?” (John 5:43-44.) In man’s search for a lasting name, humans will only find eternal shame and infamy by following the Son of Perdition. He will hold sway over a mighty confederacy of nations, but it will lead the world to the final judgment.
How much better to emulate Abraham’s obedience to the Lord, and letting Him make a name for you (Gen. 12:2.) While the architects and luminaries of Babel are entirely anonymous today, Abraham’s name is still world famous and will continue to be so for all eternity. Greatness is found in humbly submitting to God, rather than in exalting oneself. In Christ, man will indeed be glorified (Rom. 8:28-30.) 1 Peter 5:6 exhorts believers to “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.” James 4:10 similarly adds: “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.” The Christian should also keep in mind the promise to the overcomer in Rev. 2:17: “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it” (Italics mine.) The names that man seeks are temporary; the name that God gives is eternal. Human pride must be abased; Deity must be exalted! God will elevate man to a high position, but never at the expense of Divine glory.

To download the rest of the article in PDF: The Origin Of Despotism

The Indispensable Widows

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

If one were asked to make up a list of the most important people in our world today, the names would probably be culled from the ranks of the famous statesmen and policy makers in the various regimes of the globe. Doubtless, numerous brilliant scientists and scholars would be listed among the ranks of the great; other people would include immensely talented artists, writers, and musicians. Still others would discuss great business leaders, who help shape the economies of the world. On such a list of the ‘Who’s who’, would we find people who are commonly called widows? Striking a bit closer to home, would we choose to build a new assembly around a core group of widows? Most church planters would probably prefer to begin a new local testimony with young individuals or couples, and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with such a desire. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that the assembly has a desperately needed role for the widows to play. They are especially useful to God, and need to exercise their ministry among His people. Widows in the Old Testament In appreciating the value of the godly widow, it would be helpful to study the history of God’s concern for these ladies. The Old Testament is filled with admonitions to care for the widow (such instructions are frequently coupled with instructions to help the fatherless and the stranger.) Consider the fact that the Mosaic Law commanded Israel to care for the widows. In Exodus 22.21 to 24 the Lord says: ‘Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto Me, I will surely hear their cry, and My wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless’. Deuteronomy 10.18 assures us that ‘He doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment’. Widows and orphans were to be fed from the obligatory tithes that Israelites paid, Deut.14.29, and they were to be included in the festivities accompanying the Feasts of the LORD, Deut.16.11, 14.
In ancient times, widows were in most cases unprotected and destitute. If she did not have family to care for her, no one looked out for the widow’s rights, or made sure that she was sustained. In some societies to this day, widows are forced to eke out whatsoever living that they may find. Such poverty and need found an answer in the Word of the One who described Himself as ‘A Father of the fatherless, and a Judge of the widows, is God in His holy habitation’, Ps.68.5.1 Clearly God is devoted to the widow’s defense and provision. His scathing indictment of the failure of Israel’s leaders in the days of Isaiah includes the fact that ‘…they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them’, Isa.1.23. Years later, the Lord assured Israel that such oppression
1 . In this verse, the word ‘Judge’ is being used to describe one who makes sure that a person is protected and that their rights are maintained; that is to say, the widow’s sins are not in view in this verse.
would result in Divine judgment, Mal.3.5. These are but a few of the many Old Testament references to God’s unceasing love and concern for widows.
Widows in the New Testament
The Lord Jesus’ ministry shows us that God’s interest in the widow was not confined to Old Testament days. Repeatedly, He condemned the scribes and Pharisees for their abuse of widows, e.g. Matt.23.14 & Luke 20.46-47. Furthermore, on seeing a mourning widow following the bier of her only son, the Lord intervened and restored the boy’s life, Luke 7.11-17. At the time of the crucifixion, it is highly possible that Mary was a widow. The Lord’s compassionate desire to have her protected is seen in His statement from the Cross, ‘Woman behold thy son…son behold thy mother’, John 19.26-27. In both the Old and New Testaments it is apparent that the Lord loves the widow.
Widows as providers
Having established God’s ongoing interest in the widow, one may inquire, ‘What then is the importance of the widow to the assembly’? Firstly, the Lord has used widows to provide for His servants. In the Old Testament, He used a Gentile widow to shelter Elijah during part of the famine, 1 Kgs.17.8-24. During the church age, He has likewise used many widows to house and help His people. Among the marks of a godly widow in 1 Tim.5:10 is that ‘…she [has] lodged strangers…[and] washed saints’ feet’. At the Judgment Seat of Christ many widows will undoubtedly be honored for using their modest homes and meager possessions to further the work of God. Widows are also indispensable for the assembly, because they were used by the Lord Jesus to set the standard for selfless giving. On one occasion He observed many affluent worshippers casting large sums of money into the Temple treasury. Rather than single out some huge financial contribution as an example of giving, the Lord Jesus focused on a poor widow, who threw in two mites–a paltry amount in comparison to the gifts of the wealthy contributors. Nevertheless, the Lord affirmed that she set the standard on sacrificial giving by throwing in all that she had. One has noted that she had two mites, and therefore, could have kept one for herself. (Who could blame her?) Instead, she gave all that she had. God affords the widows the honorable place of contributing out of their poverty, a privilege that many with large bank accounts will never know, Luke 21.1-4. Widows: An example of faith
Thirdly, widows set an example for the assembly in their life of faith. 1 Tim.5.5 reminds us that ‘she who is really a widow and left alone, trusts in God, and continues in supplications and prayers night and day’. (NKJV) It is all too easy to mechanically give thanks for one’s daily food without really being grateful for it. For the widow with little or no means of visible support, procuring food and clothing is a repeated exercise in dependence on Jehovah Jireh’s faithful provision. It is likely that the reluctance of many young people to devote all of their time and energy to the Lord’s work on the foreign and domestic mission fields results from their lack of understanding God’s ability to provide for His workers ‘on faith.’ Although such questions naturally occur to the human mind,
such believers would do well to study the pious widows, who depend on the Lord without ‘letters of commendation’.2 The assembly desperately needs faithful widows to remind it of God’s generosity toward His children. Widows: A barometer of piety Another vital function that the widows play in the Lord’s assemblies is as a gauge of the piety of believers. James phrases this aspect of widowhood well, ‘Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world’, Jas.1.27. How a believer responds to those who are less fortunate than himself is an excellent barometer for our love, sympathy, & selflessness. If left to themselves, Christians often get wrapped up in their own problems and needs. The presence of needy saints like widows serves to remind Christians to care for the weak and show the love of Christ in practical ways.
God remembers the widows
Widows also demonstrate God’s faithfulness and mercy. Though widows are sometimes forgotten by humans, the Lord never neglects them. He affords them the inestimable privilege of being the objects of His special affection and compassion. To the theologian, God is academically merciful; to the widow, His mercy is known in every day experience.
Widows as servants
Any assessment of the widow, would not be complete without noting their remarkable contribution to the work of the Lord. The distinguished history of widows’ service takes us back to Anna, who ‘…departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the LORD, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem’, Luke 2.37-38. Anna has her modern counterparts in the church. Many widows faithfully serve the Lord around the globe as missionaries.3 Likewise, in North America and the United Kingdom
2 The author certainly supports the biblical use of letters of commendation; it is feared, however, that in some quarters, they are seen to be a guarantee of financing from the Lord’s people. On being commended, a wise servant of God counseled me: ‘Look to the Lord for your support, not to the assemblies’. I have found this to be good advice. God doesn’t need ‘a letter’ to support those who do His business. J. Hudson Taylor’s famous axiom bears repeating: ‘God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s supply’. Widows show the ability of the Lord to provide for His own, apart from all human conventions.
3 Along with single sisters, widows compose a large segment of active servants in Gospel work and other ministries on the mission field; for verification of this, one may consult the CMML Missionary handbook or the Echoes of Service handbook. It is easy to forget the widows of missionaries/fulltime workers once their husbands have past off the scene.
the efforts of widows have a strong impact on the character of the work of the Lord. Often it is still ‘the widow’s mite’ that supports the work of the Lord. Similarly, in their prayer lives and worship, many widows are the backbone of the local assembly. Anna was a woman of prayer; likewise, only heaven will accurately tell the distinguished history of the widows who waged spiritual warfare through prayer. Often times critics of biblical principles of gathering accuse women of having a nonfunctioning role in the meetings of the assembly because they are silent. On the contrary, God hears the silent worship of the sisters (including the widows), and is pleased by it. Having scanned the long history of the Lord’s appreciation for and usage of widows, one must conclude that they play a vital role in the work of God. Rather than overlooking the widows, local assemblies need to practically care for them, pray for them, and tap into their piety in the testimony of the fellowship. May the Lord teach us the value of widows, and the significant role that they play in His plans. Furthermore, may we like the Lord, love them and help them in their quest to bring glory to the Almighty God. Many of the principles that are mentioned in this article also apply to widowers, single elderly sisters or brothers, and ‘shut-ins’. God remembers them, and will reward them in a coming day at the Judgement Seat of Christ.
Let us continue to financially support the widows on the field, who are in many cases neglected.

To download the article in PDF: The Indispensable Widows

The Hatred of God

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

In modern colloquial English the word “hate” is commonly used to mean something far weaker than its dictionary definition. People often say “I hate traffic jams”, or “I hate the Dallas Cowboys.” What they usually mean by such statements is that they dislike such phenomena or people. When God uses the word, however, it carries a far weightier meaning. The Scriptural use of the term in connection with the Almighty indicates absolute loathing and detestation. In light of this, what then does God hate? Proverbs 6:16-19 list seven things that the Lord abhors.
The first thing that God detests is “a proud look.” Other translations render the word “haughty eyes.” (e.g. JND, ASV, & RSV.) This problem has plagued man since his expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Seeing things from a proud perspective has long been one of the major faults of human beings. In this age of technological advancement and material prosperity, people tend to think of themselves more highly than they ought. They rejoice in their “good fortune”, forgetting to thank God for their health, possessions, and life itself. Like the Babylonian King Belshazzar of old, they carouse and celebrate in a carefree manner, never thinking that “the God in whose hand [their] breath is, and whose are all [their] ways, [they] have not glorified.”(Dan.5:23, brackets mine.) Instead, they view things through a hubris-laden filter, believing that man is the measure of all things. Men view themselves as being capable of accomplishing anything. Certainly people who have gone to the moon, engendered the computer revolution, and eradicated smallpox can do whatever they set their minds upon doing. Such proud optimism pervades our music, media, & educational institutions in the modern era. In God’s sight, however, such thinking is the product of “haughty eyes” and He hates it. Such a viewpoint negates the Biblical teaching on sin, the necessity of the Cross, and elevates man to equal status with his Creator. Man needs to recognize his vileness and inability to please God through human exertion or merit. God loathes our proud thoughts, and commands humble repentance and faith towards the Almighty.(Acts 17:30)
The second object of the Lord’s loathing is “the lying tongue.” James would later forcefully write concerning the tongue: “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell…the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. (Jms. 3:6, 8) The honest critic is forced to concede that these statements are no exaggeration of the tongue’s potency. It is a destructive and dangerous weapon that has touched off many wars, divided many families, and broken many hearts. This member becomes even more vicious when one adds “lying” to it. The Bible affirms that such verbal falsehood characterizes Satan, the Father of lies himself.(Jn.8:44) In God’s estimation there is no such thing as a little white lie; rather, He declares His enmity towards the tongue that speaks falsehood. The Lord Jesus, who called Himself “the truth,” stands in contrast to error and lies. The lying tongue robs God of glory, exalts man, denies the Gospel of
grace, repudiates the word of the Lord, and perpetrates many other perfidious iniquities. “Hands that shed innocent blood” next comes on the list of abominations in Proverbs 6. With over one hundred million people slaughtered, the twentieth century holds the ignominious distinction of bloodiest recorded century in human history. This gruesome moniker is evidenced by the occurrence of two world wars, notorious episodes of genocide against the Armenians and the Jews, plus mass murder in Russia, Cambodia, Argentina, Rwanda, Burundi, Algeria, Nigeria, Bosnia, and Israel (to name only a few places.) The United States has not been exempt from the butchering of innocents; “civilized” America justifies the blood on its hands with the relatively antiseptic term abortion. Millions of unborn children are slain in the womb in the name of family planning, population control, and personal rights. God hates the murder of innocents. He noted the massacre of the Israelite infants in Egypt, as well as the killing of the Bethlehemite babies. The righteous judge of all the earth will avenge the helpless. “A heart that deviseth wicked imaginations” comes next on the list of seven abominations in the sight of the Lord. This well-describes the current mindset that pervades our media, books, and entertainment industry. In the internet age, it is easy for man’s perverse thinking to be rapidly spread around the world. Even the art world seems fixated on glorifying the obscene, rather than exalting the beautiful things in God’s Creation. Man’s downfall has always been, at root, a heart problem. In the time of Noah, the Scripture records: “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5) The Lord’s displeasure with this brought on a worldwide flood that destroyed everyone except Noah and his immediate family. Closely related to the wicked thoughts of man’s heart are “feet that be swift in running to mischief.” As fast as men can devise evil, they hasten to implement it. The last two characteristics on the Lord’s list are particularly insidious. “A false witness that speaketh lies” and “he that soweth discord among brethren” both imply the most calculated deceit, intended to bring about maximum damage to an individual. His distaste for these loathsome attributes is no doubt so acute because of the fact that such things were done to His beloved Son at Calvary. False witnesses testified against the Lord Jesus before the High Priest. Later the lie was maintained before Pontius Pilate. Doubtless, Satan delighted in the separation of the disciples as the Shepherd was smitten and the sheep were scattered. During the Church age this infernal liar has repeatedly tried to divide God’s people (the many splits in Church history bear sad testimony to this reality.) The closer that the crucifixion account is examined, the more it becomes apparent that all of these seven abominations were present on the day that the Lord Jesus gave His life.
With “a proud look” men rejected their Creator-Messiah, reckoning Him as a transgressor. They mocked Him, saying “He saved others, Himself He cannot save.” (Mt.27:42) “A lying tongue” was seen in the taunts that the masses hurled in Christ’s face. What more “innocent blood” could have been shed than that of
the Spotless Son of God? Truly, the wickedest plan that the heart of man ever devised was the murder of the Lord Jesus Christ! The Gospels tell the story of man’s haste “running to do mischief” in such words as “…straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council, and bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate.” (Mk. 15:1) There was absolutely no hesitation on the part of the Lord’s enemies; they wanted to be rid of Him immediately. In light of the presence of these seven abominations at Calvary, it makes man’s crime against the Son of God all the more heinous and despicable. The wonder is that the Word testifies that God still loves mankind, and offers salvation to those who will repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. The last words of the Bible well sum up the divine invitation: “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star. And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. .. He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:16-17, 20)

To download the article in PDF: The Hatred Of God

The Agony & The Ecstasy

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Why do bad things happen to good people? Or more specifically, why do Christians suffer? Humans live in a world of suffering, plagued by disease, loneliness, and pain of every imaginable sort. The question, “Why is there suffering?” is not limited to philosophers and ethicists—every thinking person ponders it! Even if one arrives at the answer “Because there is sin in the world,” that only leads to a further line of questioning. For instance, one might ask: “How did this evil come to exist in the Universe? Did God fashion it this way?” The Bible leaves no doubt that the cosmos was not always as we see it now. Upon completing the Creation, God pronounced it “good.” (“Very good” described His assessment of His handiwork after the formation of Man.) Sin, which at root is rebellion against God, began in the Heavenlies. It did not emanate from God, but rather from Lucifer and numerous angelic beings. A thoughtful person might then pose the question: “If evil originated in heavenly places, how was it transferred to this planet?” Once more the Bible provides the answer: “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and thus death passed upon all men, because all have sinned.”(Rom.5:12) Generally speaking, we may thereby explain the existence of evil in the world. While this explanation is helpful regarding the general aspects of sin, it still does not answer our first interrogative.
It is impossible for any finite being to accurately account for every single bad situation that occurs in someone’s life. That is to say, I cannot necessarily tell you specifically why God has allowed something bad to happen to you at a given point in time. Some things one will not know on this side of Eternity. Armed with the Scriptures, however, one may draw some conclusions about God and His dealings with His Creation that can help account for the calamities that befall His children.
For a correct understanding of this subject, one must first see that suffering is a necessary part of the Christian life. Both the Lord Jesus and His apostles affirmed that those who believe the Gospel are not exempt from the trials and vicissitudes of life in a fallen world. In fact, the Scripture directly says “Yea, and all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”(2 Tim.3:12) The Lord Jesus Himself said “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” These and other verses promise us that Christian living will inevitably bring us into difficulties in the service of Christ. Frankly, the Lord Jesus indicated the harsh nature of discipleship in these words: “If anyone desires to follow me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me.” Suffering is an integral part of God’s perfect plan for the Christian. Therefore, it should surprise no one that the Lord’s people experience ordinary and extraordinary afflictions.
If trials are an inseparable component of the Christian life, one might then wonder what specific purposes God has in allowing difficulties in the lives of His children. James 1:3-4 provide one answer: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”(NKJV) The Lord sovereignly uses painful circumstances to produce patience in believers. Trials bring people to an end of themselves. This passage reveals that God employs these troubles to bring Christians to complete dependence on Himself. In the context of the first-century world of James 1, the Christians were facing staunch persecution, involving the loss of
family, fortune, and freedom. The saints are offered Divine wisdom to cope with these gargantuan problems, thus bringing them into more intimate fellowship with their Father in Heaven.(Jms.1:5) Distractions in the material world are legion; consequently, God allows drastic conditions to occur in order to teach saints His perfect wisdom and grace. Like the believers who received James’ epistle, the suffering recipients of the epistle to the Hebrews were assured of the faithfulness of the Great High Priest “…[who] ever liveth to make intercession for them.”(Heb.7:25b) Such truths still bolster the confidence of God’s people during hard times. Trials divulge the true quality of the world. All carefully crafted facades are stripped of any vestige of credibility. Vexing times show things as they really are, in stark detail. Nevertheless, the manifesting nature of trials is not strictly negative in character. The genuineness of faith is powerfully revealed by trials. During times of prosperity it is relatively easy to profess to be a Christian. When troubles come, however, many false professors abandon their affirmation of faith in the Lord in favor of an easier path. Just as physical trauma demonstrates weak points in a bridge, likewise spiritual stress brings out faith that is false and shallow. True faith is verified in the crucible of suffering. Historically, some of the Church’s leanest spiritual seasons have occurred during times of material prosperity and safety. It is human nature to become complacent when things are going well. Therefore, God frequently employs hard times to wean our hearts away from the world and onto Himself. The pulse of the Christian grows quicker as he remembers that this world is not his home. Whereas this world is a scene of sin and woe, heaven is a place of joyful, uninterrupted fellowship with the Creator. Trials also remind the believer to be thankful for all of the Lord’s mercies toward him. There is definitely an empathetic element that comes out of suffering. By passing through trials, the believer is enabled to fulfil the task of bearing one another’s burdens in a more realistic fashion. If one had never suffered what Shakespeare termed “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” then one could not adequately comfort another suffering person. Think of the comfort that must have come to the believers who received the epistles of Peter, knowing that the author had himself endured public humiliation, physical beatings, and imprisonment for the sake of the Gospel. Likewise, Paul’s readers knew that he understood what it was like to undergo shipwreck, beatings, imprisonment, and the loss of property, reputation, family, & friends. To the Corinthians he gave a painful wound report, and topped it off with an interesting but little thought of aspect of his trials: “Besides those things that are without, the crowd of cares pressing on me daily, the burden of all the assemblies.”(2 Cor.11:28, JND.) The spiritual growth and needs of the believers weighed upon the veteran apostle’s mind. Each doctrinal controversy, schism, and public sin of the assemblies caused him concern, which resulted in time on his knees in prayer. Modern Christians need to remember that our elders and fulltime workers are involved in a spiritual battle that involves them in the affairs surrounding our well being. Consequently, we need to earnestly pray for them, & respect them for the work’s sake. Generally speaking, as Christians suffer, we are better equipped to appreciate one another, and pray for suffering saints.
God’s Word further assures us that enduring persecution for the Lord’s sake will inevitably lead to Divine blessing. The assembly in Smyrna was warned that a time of testing was coming; nevertheless, they were assured that it would result in their ultimate reward. The Holy Spirit phrased it thus: “”I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty
(but thou art rich)…Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the Devil will cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”(Rev.2:9-10.) Faithful endurance of suffering for the will of the Master will always enjoy heavenly recompense.
It is clear that God is greatly concerned about the trials that come upon His people. He is not indifferent to our problems and woes. Christians have the assurance of Scripture, however, that “All works work together for good, to them that love God and are the called according to His purpose.”(Rom.8:28.) As William MacDonald once said: “Nothing that comes to the child of God gets through without first passing through a filter of infinite love.” Suffering is the soil that helps cultivate the growth of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Times of difficulty make us dependent on God, and help us to care more for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Above all, it is comforting to remember the words of the Psalmist: “For His anger is but for a moment; His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.”(Ps.30:5, ASV.) A day is coming when the glorious promise of the Lord will be fulfilled: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”(Rev.21:4.) As John Nelson Darby once expressed it in a hymn: “In the desert God will teach thee/What the God that thou hast found/Patient, gracious, powerful, holy/All His grace shall there abound. On to Canaan’s rest still wending/Even thy wants and woes shall bring/Suited grace from high descending/Thou shalt taste of mercy’s spring. Though thy way be long and dreary/Eagle strength He’ll still renew/Garments fresh and foot unweary/Tell how God hath brought thee through.”1 Even so come Lord Jesus!
1 #76 in Hymns for the Little Flock.

To download the article in PDF: The Agony & The Ecstasy

Special Ops

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

The recent fighting in Afghanistan has cast the spotlight on extraordinary soldiers, referred to as Special Operations or Special Forces. All major armies have their elite troops, who are reserved for difficult missions, requiring bravery and skill in superlative degree. The Israeli Defense Force has its celebrated paratroopers. The British have the Special Air Service (SAS) and the Royal Marines. While the United States military has numerous different Special Operations units (e.g. The Navy Seals; Marine Recon teams & Scout-Snipers; & the Army Rangers, Green Berets, & Delta Force.) In Biblical times, there were also valiant warriors, who possessed courage, loyalty, & faith. Champions like Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson performed great martial exploits in delivering Israel from their enemies. Perhaps no other group of men in the Scriptures deserve the title of Special Forces more than David’s Mighty Men.
Most great military leaders form their commando squads from the ranks of experienced professional soldiers, who are ideal physical specimens. Furthermore, wise commanders seek intelligent men, who have a strong sense of espirit de corps. In our day, we might look for university-trained officers, products of our prestigious military academies, or at least, graduates of officers candidate school. In the case of the mighty men, however, David recruited unlikely heroes under extreme conditions. 1 Sam.22:1-2 gives the account of the arrival of his first troops: “David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam: and when his brethren and all his father’s house heard it, they went down thither to him. And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.” (Italics mine) Truly, David garnered the nucleus of his armed forces from a motley crew of disenfranchised and disenchanted wanderers. They came to him when he was rejected and unrecognized by the nation of Israel. Saul sought to murder him, and he was reduced to dwelling in a cave. Many of the Mighty Men first joined David at this low point in his history.
David’s recruiting policy of taking in defaulters and other vulnerable people reminds one of the Lord Jesus’ tactics in forming His forces. His servants are culled from the teeming masses of slaves to vice, enemies of God, recalcitrant rebels, and spiritually debilitated debtors. As Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29: “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.” Ordinary human thinking would seek followers from the upper echelon of society; but God changes His soldiers from the inside out into a “new creature.” (2 Cor.5:17) In the Master’s service, the hated tax collector (Matthew) and ardent political partisan (Simon the Zealot) are changed into devoted apostles of Christ. Fishermen become fishers of men (e.g. Peter & John); and council members bow to the
“Wonderful Counselor” (e.g. Nicodemus & Joseph of Arimathea.) Only the Lord Jesus could take an inveterate enemy of the Gospel like Saul of Tarsus and transform him into its greatest proponent. In more modern times, committed atheists like C.S. Lewis have converted to Christ, as well as sinners of every demographic and description.
It is interesting to note the authority structure of David’s Mighty Men. Officers’ ranks were attained by first proving oneself on the battlefield. For example, Josheb-basshebeth, the first man on the list in 2 Sam.23, was rewarded with high position in the army on account of his loyalty and accomplishments in combat. He also earned the nickname Adino the Eznite (loosely translated, “One of the sharp spear”) due to his slaying of eight hundred enemy soldiers on one day. This remarkable feat was performed without the aid of modern firearms or explosives; Adino did it with just a spear! Such a heroic performance was rewarded with a responsible position: “the chief of the captains” (probably the equivalent of our modern Major General—Joab would have been over him as the supreme general of the armed forces. See 1 Chr.11:4-6.) Similarly, the Lord Jesus apportions positions of service based on diligence in lesser tasks. In the assembly, He says that an elder is not to be “a novice.” (1 Tim.3:6) The men who were put in charge of the distribution to the widows of the early church were “…men of honest report [indicating their responsible character as demonstrated by past performance], full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.” (Acts 6:3, bracketed comments mine.) The Lord Jesus further demonstrates this principle in His comments on authority in the Kingdom of God (Mat.25:14-30.) Those who are faithful in little are reassigned to greater duties.
The Christian life is described as warfare in the New Testament. Ephesians 6 offers a well-known list of spiritual weapons that comprise the believer’s armaments. Likewise, 2 Cor. 10:3-5 points out that “…though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” Martial imagery fills the New Testament in the exposition of the greater spiritual battles that transpire between the forces of good and evil. Therefore, Christians can learn a great deal from studying the special operations forces of the man after God’s own heart.
To Be Continued
Old Testament Special Forces or In the Lord’s Army, Part 2
By: Keith R. Keyser
David’s renowned special operations group, the Mighty Men were composed of brave warriors who were entirely devoted to their King. The valiant killer Josheb-basshebeth, also called Adino the Eznite, headed up the first team on the list. He was followed by Eleazar the son of Dodo the Ahohite, who completed several important missions. His name indicates the sort of man he was: “God [is] helper.” He relied on the Lord to strengthen him in the rigors of battle. The same attitude has marked all of God’s servants
through the ages. Samuel readily acknowledged the Lord’s help as the source of the Israelites victory over the Philistines. (1 Sam.7:12) Paul told that Philippians “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Phil.4:13, Italics mine.) The Psalmist expresses this same thinking: “Some boast of chariots, and some of horses; but we boast of the name of the LORD our God.” (Ps.20:7, RSV) The Proverbs further adds: “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” (Pro.3:5) Those who rely on God for their help will never be ashamed.
Eleazar lived up to his name. 2 Sam. 23:9 tells us of his courage in standing with David when many others had fled. The succeeding verse says: “He arose and attacked the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand stuck to the sword. The LORD brought about a great victory that day; and the people returned after him only to plunder.” (NKJV) He demonstrated his prowess as a swordsman, but could not put down his weapon after the victory was secured. Heb.4:12 compares the Word of God to a sword; likewise, Eph.6:17 calls the Word of God “the sword of the Spirit.” Interestingly, Eleazar was a man who could not put down the sword. Figuratively speaking, Christians need to be devoted to learning and properly wielding the sword. Believers in the West have never had more Bible translations, commentaries, study tools, Bible computer programs, and sermons on tape. This notwithstanding, there is a genuine famine of Bible knowledge among professing Christians. The Church needs more men and women like Eleazar, who will cling to the sword. After his impressive stand on the battlefield, the Israelites who had fled returned to partake of the spoils of victory. In an era of inconsistency, there is a desperate need for godly believers whose faithfulness to the Word will be an example to weaker saints.
Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite stands next on the honor role of David’s Mighty Men. His name means “Ruin or Waste.” This inauspicious moniker failed to capture the true essence of this able combatant. He may have been a waste to others, but in David’s eyes, he was among the Army’s most able troops. God still uses those who come to Him with wasted lives; He gives them new life and uses them through the power of His Holy Spirit. Shammah’s valor and usefulness is seen in the fact that he refused to forsake a field of lentils in the face of a large force of attacking Philistines. Others may have reasoned in this manner: “It’s just a field of beans; it’s not worth risking my life.” In contrast, Shammah stood & protected it, for it was part of the land that God gave to His people Israel. Christians would do well to mark his example. Today truth is very lightly esteemed. Many believers readily leave New Testament-style assemblies in favor of less Scriptural gatherings on account of a lack of appreciation for the truth of the Biblical pattern. Some excuse this by pointing to the problems and mistakes of the assemblies (one wonders if they encounter perfect believers in the new congregations that they join.) Others argue that they need a fellowship with more programs for themselves and their children. If they are not satisfied with obeying Christ in the manner that He prescribes in His Word, however, they will not find His approval in fleeing to a different local church. Oh for Christians with the heart of Shammah, who stay and become part of the solution.
After recounting Shammah’s impressive exploits, 2 Sam.23 tells a remarkable story of personal dedication to the king’s well-being and desires. Some scholars teach that the
three protagonists are different from the first three men on the list. It is this writer’s belief, however, that this incident flows naturally from the accounts of Adino, Eleazar, and Shammah; consequently, they are probably the three who performed this dramatic act of selfless heroism. The story takes place during David’s exile in the desert, when he was hiding in the Cave of Adullam. The Philistines were then in possession of his hometown, Bethlehem (in fact, they had a garrison of soldiers stationed there.) David longingly said: “Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!” (2 Sam.23:15) Anyone who has been away from home for a long time can identify with his wistful utterance. The three warriors heard this statement, and decided that David’s wish was their command. They set over on the dangerous trek to Bethlehem, where they broke through the Philistine defenses, drew the water, and fought their way back out of the city. They brought the water to their king, who recognized it as an act of devotion that only was fitting as a gift for God. Thus, David poured it out as a drink offering to the Lord. Where are the believers in our age who will care for the desires of the Lord Jesus’ heart? The highest use of our lives as Christians would be to seek out our Father’s will, and do it unhesitatingly; worship and service are His rightful due.
At this point you could make the following a third article, or you could combine it with the above to make this a two article series. Whatever you choose is fine with me. Should you decide to make it three articles, you may title the third: “Commandos in David’s Forces.” Or “In the Lord’s Army”-Part 3.
The second choice unit in David’s special operations force was composed of three dependable soldiers. Abishai the son of Zeruiah was David’s nephew, and also the brother of two other famous fighters: Joab and Asahel. When Saul was hunting David in the wilderness, Abishai and David snuck into his camp, and took the king’s staff and water jug. This bold act, demonstrated that they could have killed him, but instead showed mercy. On another occasion, Abishai had great success in a battle against the Ammonites and the Syrians (2 Sam.10:10,14.) When King David was older, this valiant officer saved him from death at the hands of a giant Philistine (2 Sam.21:15-17.) 2 Sam.23:18-19 asserts that he commanded the second group of three due to his impressive slaying of three hundred men in one battle. Truly, he was a very accomplished warrior.
Benaiah the son of Jehoida served under Abishai in this second unit. Bravery was in his blood, for His father is described as “a valiant man of Kabzeel, who had done many acts” (2 Sam.23:20.) Often the sons of great men find living in their father’s shadow awkward. Nevertheless, Benaiah was a “chip off the old block”; if anything, his exploits outshone his fathers mighty deeds. He killed two lion-like warriors of Moab. This description conjures up images of ferocity, but Benaiah did not find these bloodthirsty savages to be much of a challenge. Next, the chapter tells us how he slew a lion in a pit on a snowy day. One cannot help but be impressed with this feat. Bravery aside, however, one wonders why he would undertake such a dangerous mission. 2 Samuel is silent on the matter, but perhaps someone feared that the wild beast would get loose and wreak havoc among the local Israelites. Rather than see them suffer anxiety, Benaiah eliminated the threat. He also put on an unparalleled display of martial arts skill in disarming a large Egyptian combatant, and then killing him with his own spear. It is reminiscent of David
killing Goliath with his own sword. Moreover, it also was the same tactic that the Lord Jesus used in defeating Satan and death itself. As Heb.2:14-15 says of Christ: “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Thanks be to God, the Christian can sing “O Death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” with assurance, knowing that “…we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (1 Cor.15:55; Rom.8:37.) Benaiah’s courage and talents earned him the important position of head of the King’s guard (the equivalent of heading up the Secret Service. The marginal reading says that David made him head over his council, so there was probably some advisory capacity involved in this job.)
The soldiers who comprised David’s Mighty Men came from all sorts of backgrounds. It is surprising to see the wide variety of people that are represented on this list. They were drawn from every corner of Israel and beyond. Some, like Zelek the Ammonite, were Gentiles. Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem was from David’s hometown. In contrast, Ittai the son of Ribai was from Saul’s hometown and tribe. Ahithophel, the advisor who defected to Absalom’s side, had a son who was numbered with the Mighty Men. Similarly, the Lord Jesus draws His troops from every race, tribe, nation, and language group. All of these diverse soldiers are united by their love for and devotion to the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Although his brothers and armor bearer are listed, the cunning general Joab, who figures prominently in 1 and 2 Samuel, is absent from the role of the devoted warriors. His many acts of brutality and perfidy disqualified him from the honor roll of the Mighty Men. Poignantly, the list ends with the name of one of David’s most dedicated soldiers: Uriah the Hittite (ironically, also a Gentile.) It is a sad reminder of David’s treachery towards one of his faithful servants. Thankfully, members of the Lord’s army need never fear that Christ Jesus will ever disappoint us. He is faithful, and promises to be with us until the end of the age, at which time He will take us home to be with Him forevermore. Furthermore, He will reward us, and we will share in His glory.

To download the article in PDF: Special Ops

The Search For Talent

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Recently the British newsmagazine The Economist ran a major story on the difficulty of finding “talent” in the business sector. With the technological advancements of the past twenty years, the need for science-savvy employees has exploded. What is more, middle and upper management is suffering from a dearth of creative minds. As the world scene becomes more economically interdependent, companies are scrambling to find dependable and capable workers to perform the skilled and innovative tasks that fuel mercantile growth. The need is so pressing, that among large American firms, the human resources manager is frequently among the highest paid executives. Similarly, the Church is in dire need of many spiritually talented people to step forward for service to the Lord.
An old problem
The need for Christian talent is nothing new. Proverbs 20:6 asks: “Many a man proclaims his own loyalty, but who can find a trustworthy man?” (NAS.) Elijah lamented the lack of prophets in his day, but was assured by the Lord that he was not alone (1 Kgs. 19:18.) Later there was no one found to step into the gap between Judah and the Lord’s judgment during the time of Ezekiel (Ezek. 22:30.) The Lord Jesus Himself said that “the harvest truly is plenteous but the laborers are few” (Mat. 9:37.) Not much has changed on the contemporary scene. In many assemblies, the lion share of the service rests on the shoulders of a few dedicated – and often overworked – individuals.
There are numerous reasons for the chronic labor shortage among New Testament-style assemblies. For one, the materialistic climate of North America often saps the time and energies of otherwise capable Christians. Sadly, in some believing families more emphasis is put on academic achievement and business success than upon spiritual growth and development of gift. In other places, the older generation is reluctant to include their younger brothers in bearing the responsibilities of the local fellowship. Having long borne the yoke and faced many battles, they find it difficult to cede authority to less experienced believers. Still in other places, modern assemblies suffer the ongoing effects of divisions among them in the past. The people who left in the seventies, eighties, or nineties have not returned, and consequently their children and grandchildren are a total loss to the assembly.
The Great Supplier of Talent
In addressing the talent shortage, one must remember the Lord Jesus’ instruction: “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:38.) Prayer is a vital component to the raising up of capable servants. The New Testament uses the metaphor of a body to describe the church, and repeatedly calls the Lord Jesus its “Head” (Eph. 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; Col. 1:18; 2:19.) Since the Head is the intelligence center and control room of the body, the example naturally points to the need for the members of the body of Christ – also known as the Church – to go to the head for the supply of their needs. He is able to give the Body whatever it needs, when it requires
it. What is more, prayer expresses dependence on God, and gives Him glory when it is answered. To our shame, our prayer meetings are often the least attended and least interesting meetings. The needs of our time demand that the Church bestirs itself to supplication that is focused, sustained, and passionate.
Talent needs to be developed biblically. Timothy was instructed: “…the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2.) He was well-aware of what this entailed, for he himself had been taught by Paul. The venerable apostle spent time teaching Timothy, as well as including him in his service on his second missionary journey. As he matured and gained experience, Paul sent him on important missions to Macedonia, Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, and Ephesus (Acts 19:22; 1 Cor. 4:17; Phil. 2:19; 1 Thes. 3:2; 1 Tim. 1:3.) Paul was a firm believer in systematic teaching, as is evidenced by his practice in Ephesus. Out of his regular Bible teaching, the Holy Spirit raised up elders in that city. Paul’s influence was also felt in the lives of Titus, Philemon, and numerous believers listed in Romans 16.
Training the next generation of servants
In passing truth on to less experienced saints, Paul was merely following the practice of the Lord Jesus, who spent approximately three years training the twelve disciples. Other key servants of God followed the same pattern. For example, Barnabas spent time with John Mark, who according to church tradition was also mentored by Peter in later years. Elijah trained Elisha. Moses guided the young Joshua. Samuel prepared David for his kingly duties, and young King Joash was taught by Jehoiada the priest.
As well as training men and women who are already in the assembly, believers ought to be seeking to win the lost. Upon conversion their talents and spiritual gifts can then be developed for the Lord’s usage. Christ commands us to preach the gospel to every creature (Mk.16:15.) If done with prayer and zeal, Christian witness is bound to deepen the labor pool of the assembly.
In considering the labor shortage in many assemblies, it should be noted that talented believers are also lost to the local fellowship because the mature saints do not take a loving interest in them. In the modern fast-paced world it is easy to fall into the pattern of only seeing our brothers and sisters at the meetings once or twice a week. If co-laborers in the Lord’s work are to be developed and encouraged, then relationships must be assiduously cultivated. In short, modern Christians need to rediscover true fellowship. This necessitates a serious investment of time, resources, and love for one another. There are no shortcuts in the Christian life. Like anything else of value, talent will cost a great deal to increase. Eternity will reveal that it was worth the effort to assist God is His great work of building the Church.

To download the article in PDF: The Search For Talent