...if at times, or frequently, He permits His servants to share His own poverty, known when He was here, this but enriches the heart with experimental fellowship with Himself in His sufferings. Frederick Stanley Arnot, the great African missionary pioneer, speaking in Bristol early in this century, remarked that life in England was far more difficult than in Central Africa. Here, he said, rent day comes round with such terrible regularity, and all the necessities of life are dear; yet it would be dishonouring to our Master to live in a disreputable condition; "but," he added, "in Africa you can starve–I mean, you can live on a sack of potatoes till something more comes along!"
---from "The Churches of God," by G.H. Lang
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
How do I draw near to God? This morning it occurred to me like a bolt of lightning that it is in prayer.
Certainly we may draw near to God at all times, day and night. I do not claim prayer is the only way to draw near to God, or even that it is the most important way to draw near to God. It may be an important way, but the inspired Word only says, "Draw near." So I should not limit the application of this teaching, because the Word itself does not so limit it.
However it occurred to me that I have not drawn as near to God as I might have, simply due to a neglect of prayer. This is something that each of us must judge according to conscience. I have judged that I have not spent sufficient time in prayer. I have prayed daily, but not often enough and not sufficiently. (This is my conscience and not anyone else's.)
So I purpose to spend more time in prayer, morning, evening, and, Lord willing, noon.
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.
The liberty at stake here is practical and experimental and has nothing to do with a believer's standing before God. It concerns my state and not my standing, my condition and not my salvation. We believers are once freed from "the yoke of bondage" at our conversion, but may become "entangled again." I may be saved, and yet "Christ shall profit (me) nothing" in this life. I may be saved and yet "fallen from grace." The principle–disregarding circumcision as anything–applies to any and every religious precept attached to the faith of Jesus Christ after our conversion. Though the liberty in view here is not limited to our service within the church, by what logic is this not a primary application?
Just as every child of God is saved by faith in Christ alone, he or she is to walk by faith in Christ alone without adding "religious precepts." This is true individually, and it is true corporately, or in our assemblies.
Not only so, this liberty is well attested by the analogies of the church as a priesthood, a body, and an assembly of brethren. Priests are equal in stature except for the High Priest, Jesus. All the parts of the body are necessary and answer to the Head alone. (There is no law against ministry, and hence no human regulation of the impulses to minister. The human regulation, instead, is against ministry contrary to New Testament teachings. It is the work of the elders to regulate rather than to initiate or direct the ministries.) Regarding the brethren Jesus said, "for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren," thus echoing the analogy of the head and the body. (Only Biblical eldership is consistent with this teaching, and not the professional pastorate as practiced.)
Now if Christ died so that we should be free, and this freedom is not only from bondage to sin and the wrath to come but also experimental and practical, then it follows that this liberty means liberty of ministry in the church or it is mere theory. But it is certainly not the Lord's theory, it is His command. It is man's theory.
Concerning liberty of service or ministry Thomas Hughes Milner wrote,
This liberty of service is freedom from tyranny. Wherever there is the intervention of human law in religious service there is tyranny in one degree or other. Its form and extent may vary as the climate and seasons of the globe, but most certain is it that wherever man becomes an ecclesiastical legislator he occupies the throne of the tyrant and usurper. It is usurpation of the peculiar prerogatives of the Lord Messiah for any man to give laws, in things divine, to those who would serve God. Christians may be robbed of their liberty, and entangled in bondage either by the imposition of a ritual of service entirely of man, or by one which, though of divine origin, is yet abolished by God, and, therefore, not obligatory on the freed men of the Lord. That there were endeavours of this entangling sort in the apostles’ time is evident from their acts and epistles, and that these efforts to incorporate the law with the faith have not yet ceased appears from the fact that much of what is popularly called “divine service” is supported only by appeals to the law of Moses. In quite a multitude of points are Christians despoiled of their heaven-given freedom by this attempted incorporation of parts of the first and abolished institution with the new, perfect, and everlasting economy. Many of the religious usages of the day are supported only from the Scriptures of the law. A national or state church; membership by virtue of fleshly descent; worship in which the public indiscriminately are recognized as participants; an order or orders of priesthood apart from the sacred people; sacred edifices, peculiar habiliments, ecclesiastical titles, high or holy days, musical instruments, are all of them defended, so far as Scripture is consulted at all, only from the laws and usages of the Jewish institution. By these entanglements many endure the partial blindness which has happened to Israel after the flesh. Moses put a vail over his face that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished; but their minds were blinded, for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament, which is done away in Christ; but even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless, when it––the heart––shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. Now, the Lord is that Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
Amen, and amen.
Good and upright is the LORD: therefore will he teach sinners in the way.
I believe the Word of God teaches the immediacy of God as every believer's Teacher. Particularly in Psalm 25.
Yes, that's the word I need. Immediacy.
I am not speaking of God's immanence. Insofar as God is immanent, He is manifest in all creation. Paul said, "In Him we live and move and have our being." (Pantheism takes this true teaching and twists it into worship of the creation rather than the Creator. It amounts to "holding the truth in unrighteousness.")
I believe Psalm 25 teaches me that God is my primary teacher. That is, He primarily teaches me without and apart from any human instrumentality. Or again, He teaches me without the aid of the church's teachers. Not only so, but no passage of Scripture contradicts the idea.
Certainly Christ gave His churches teachers, Eph. 4:11. However Paul described the ministry of a teacher in I Thessalonians 3:10, "Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith." A teacher in the church does not do it all, he is given to perfect (the verb, not the noun, accent on second syllable), or complete, that which is lacking in our faith. Of course we need more of this teaching when we are new believers, less as we grow to maturity in Christ. (But mostly what we need to do as new believers is...read the Bible.)
But the fact that Christ gave the churches teachers in no way disparages the truth that God alone is my primary teacher. In the present age Jesus says it is the Holy Spirit who is The Teacher, see John 14-17. But these two are the same thing. That of course is simply consistent with the doctrine of the Trinity.
Taken to heart, this truth changes everything about how we assemble on the Lord's day. It changes our meetings back to something resembling Romans 12 and I Corinthians 14. It changes the pastorate back to something resembling I Peter 5.
It is said that form follows function. If we recognize the Spirit in His teaching office, it changes the way we meet on the first day of the week. Then, the Spirit is sovereign, and the Word itself rather than teaching is primary, with the various speaking gifts complementing and augmenting rather than characterizing the ministry of the Word.
Paul ordered that his epistles be read in the churches. Simply read. And in Hebrews 13 we are commanded to remember them that have the rule (it simply means leadership and not Gentile-style authority) over us, "who have spoken unto (us) the word of God." Why? Only the Word of God is living and active, able to divide joint and marrow, soul and spirit.
It seems to me, then, that a primary ministry of the Word in the churches is...the Word itself.
Good teachers are wonderful and beneficial for the churches. I have learned much from good teachers. But I can only learn from them insofar as the Spirit has taught me directly from the Word. Then, when a teacher teaches me something good, it resonates with me because I know it squares with the written Word. I will not remember his teaching except insofar as it gives me something to hang my hat on in the Word, that is, chapter and verse. Thus Paul wrote, "My speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." I Cor. 2:4-5. I do not believe there is anything either mystical or subjective taught here. I think he was teaching that he used the actual words of what became the New Testament canon when he taught. In other words, it is likely that Paul taught exactly as is recorded in his letters! Where "the sermon" constitutes commentary on Paul's teaching, Paul's "commentary" was simply his epistles. For all we know he may have frequently read his letters in the churches. (However he also conversed with the people during his teaching. In Acts 20:7 where in the KJV it says "he preached unto them," the Greek word is dialogos, which means to converse.)
I fully understand that teaching is commentary (it is conventionally called "exposition," though there is no proof in the New Testament that this is the way Jesus or His apostles expounded the Scriptures) on the New Testament teachings. What I do not understand is why the ministry of the Word in the churches should necessarily and invariably take the form of sermon-teaching. This tradition in the churches ignores, 1) the other speaking gifts found in Romans 12, 2) provision for the use of the other speaking gifts in the assembly, 3) the efficacy of the pure, undefiled, unvarnished Word to minister to the saints gathered together, and 4) the sovereignty of the Teacher in the assembly.
Of course the Holy Spirit works through the teacher in addition to all the other brethren. But what is the main thing? It is the Spirit's work. That is, God is my teacher, and God is our teacher in the assembly as well. He is not limited to a single human instrument. Or, at least, that is not His will for the assemblies.
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
While many or most of the New Testament letters indicate the recipients of the letter in the opening words, in I John we are not informed of the audience addressed until the second chapter. (Of course there were no chapters or verses in the original letters. They were, after all, letters. So "Chapter 2, verse 1" is not very far into the letter.)
The audience is "my little children." That is, the apostle John was an elder writing primarily, though not exclusively, to those younger than him. And since John was one of the first believers on Jesus, all members of his audience were necessarily younger than John in the faith.
But more than just a letter of the elder to his little children (John calls himself "the elder" in II and III John), as the inspired Word this letter should be taken as direct from God the Father to His little children. Everyone who believes that the Word is inspired understands that this is the Father's letter to His children. That is, it is written to born-again believers and not to mere professors in the church.
So the fear that God intends to instill in His children is godly fear and not the ungodly kind. Ungodly fear is for those on whom the wrath of God still abides, cf. Jn 3:36. Ungodly fear is for all lawbreakers who haven't had their lawbreaking covered by the blood of Jesus. And such were formerly we.
But after we believed, ungodly fear is no longer our motive for worship or service. "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love." I Jn. 4:18. As little children, it is godly fear that is now our motive for service.
I fully believe that the book of I John is the end of New Testament doctrine. That is, all the teachings in the New Testament are given so that each of us may walk with Him in blessed fellowship. The church epistles are given to this end also. The church is given by God for the edification of the saints. These edified and encouraged saints are then to go out into the world and live a life that is our spiritual worship, Rom. 12:1-2. First and foremost we are to preach the gospel. (It is not so much that the gospel is preached "in the church" but rather that the church, i.e., the individual members, go out and preach the gospel in the world.)
So the church is given for the edification of the saints, and each of these edified saints is to walk with God. Now we are back in the book of I John. You notice that I John is not a church epistle but a general epistle, that is, it is addressed to all the saints; in this case we are called little children. Further, I John is not only about walking with God but knowing we are walking with Him. "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments." I Jn. 2:3. The test is obedience to His Word.
So we are to understand that the book of I John is not for testing our salvation but for testing our fellowship with the Lord. It makes all the difference in the world that we understand this, for then our motivation for service is godly fear and not the other kind.
Any teacher who uses (or abuses, I should say) the book of I John in order to instill a fear of losing one's salvation, is a false teacher and a cult leader. By contrast, a sound teacher of the Word will indeed teach the book in such a way as to instill godly fear in God's little children.
There are other New Testament passages which concern the necessity for self-examination in order that we may each of us ensure that we are in the faith, that is, truly saved by the blood of Jesus. For example, Paul wrote,
"Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith." II Cor. 13:5a. And the entire book of Hebrews serves as a warning to members of the professing church that we may enter the visible church without having entered the invisible church through faith in Jesus. In this event the professors are like Israel that perished in the wilderness without entering into His rest in Canaan. They had God, they had the ordinances, and they perished. So is it true for many in the visible church.
But a person's standing before God is not the issue in I John, it is a believer's state or experience. A believer is already in right standing with God. The first and foremost thing to understand about I John is that it is addressed to the saints, or born-again believers, members of the one, true, spiritual, invisible, eternal church of Jesus Christ–the little children–and not to anyone who has merely confessed the Lord Jesus but never believed in his heart that God raised Him from the dead.
I am happy to believe and know that I am one of God's little children. And I hope to grow more childlike in my faith, more obedient in my service.
Trusted Jesus in 1984. Been in school–not seminary–ever since. Looking forward to graduating, I Thess. 4:17.