I Only Am Left

It has been troubling to me to take note of Christian men who withdraw from fellowship with other saints because of the shortcomings they find in their brothers and sisters in Christ. I would not question whether these souls are truly the Lord’s own, or whether He can still use them in a limited way to advance His purposes in the kingdom of God.  But there is loss suffered in the body of Christ and in the soul, when a Christian eschews godly fellowship in the assembly, or avoids real engagement with other believers even while perfunctorily attending a church.

Standing aloof from one’s brethren because they are simply weak and failing brings to mind the prophet Elijah, whom Jehovah sent to the wayward and idolatrous northern kingdom of Israel.  Elijah performed great and terrible signs by the power of God, praying for a three-year cessation of rain, calling down fire from heaven on the sacrifice and altar on Mount Carmel, and even calling down fire to consume the emissaries of King Ahab (I Kings 17 – II Kings 1). No doubt all this was of the Lord in His ways of judgment among His people, to the end that their consciences would be smitten and so that repentance might result. However, Elijah was a “man subject to like passions as we are” (James 5:17), and he missed the mind of God in a few important points which I believe might be used to exercise the hearts of some who may feel the way Elijah did.

Many readers will remember that Elijah’s failure of interceding against the people of God is the only failure of an Old Testament saint found recorded in the New Testament (Romans 11:2-5). This is instructive for us beyond the immediate context of God’s election of a remnant by sovereign grace. I believe we could say that there was a serious flaw in Elijah’s otherwise godly character that made his prideful disdain of other Israelites so noteworthy, and the subject of the Lord’s rebuke and censure.

It was this root of self-importance that caused him to flee into the wilderness from Jezebel and there complain: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers” (I Kings 19). One only speaks this way if he had once thought himself to actually be better than his fathers; it was a pitiful admission of his pride. Soon after this, upon reaching Horeb, the mount of God, he manifests it yet again by his speech to Jehovah: “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, thrown down Thine altars, and slain Thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left . . .”  After Elijah repeats this defense of himself, Jehovah in grace gives the gentle yet pointed rebuke: “Yet I have left Me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which has not kissed him.” We are left to wonder why Elijah failed to seek out these godly ones so as to have some fellowship with them in their isolation, particularly when we notice that the remnant of returned Jews at a later time “spoke often one to another” (Malachi 3:16). This desire for fellowship with the faithful is normal and approved of by the Lord.

The God of Israel had an important mission for Elijah among those tribes that rebelled against the rightful king of the house of David. Following Jeroboam, they had left the divinely-chosen center for worship (Jerusalem) for their own artificial and idolatrous worship at Dan and Bethel. I have often pondered Elijah’s seeming lack of esteem for the place Jehovah had chosen to place His name (Deuteronomy 12), seeing there were other faithful ones from the ten northern tribes that gathered at Jerusalem both before and after the days of Elijah¹, during the reigns of Asa and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Why this lack and failure? True, he had been led of Jehovah to build an altar of precisely twelve stones on Mount Carmel², indicating his appreciation for Jehovah’s perspective on Israel as being one undivided nation in His thoughts, but why did Elijah not go further in his thoughts and desires, even to Jerusalem, where true worship to the Lord was to be offered? It was during Elijah’s ministry that godly Jehoshaphat gathered the faithful of Judah to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem “to seek the Lord”, and Elijah had done well to be gathered there with them³.

Elijah’s service was special and singular, and on its principle God was pleased to pattern the ministry of both John the Baptist and a future prophetic witness during the Great Tribulation period.*  But he is not a model for the Christian man today, and his lonely and isolated ministry of judgment and restoration presaging an earthly kingdom** is suited to periods outside of this day when “grace reigns” (Romans 5:21). The Lord Jesus indicated as much when He rebuked His disciples when they invoked Elijah’s action° in entertaining the thought of calling fire down from heaven on Samaritans: “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.”

The believer of this age ought to seek out companionship and fellowship with those “who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (II Timothy 2:16-22).  Truly, there should also be an exercise of conscience as to separation from evil doctrine and immoral practice among Christians. But it is antithetical to the proper spirit of a Christian to neglect this dispensation’s true gathering center for worship, prayer, and administrative authority (i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ – Matthew 18:18-20), or to think so highly of one’s own spiritual state as to separate himself with complaining spirit from simple but godly saints who seek to be gathered around Christ. God in wisdom uses the “spirit of Elijah” to accomplish His purposes of blessing in other days, but the spirit of a Timothy or of an Onesiphorus°° is what He really delights in using for the blessing of saints now, in the church of God.

 

¹  II Chronicles 15:8-10; 30:5-11      ²  I Kings 18:31   ³  II Chronicles 20:3-5   * Revelation 11    **  Malachi 4:5-5; Matthew 16:28 – 17:11    °  Luke 9:54-56; II Kings 1     °°  Philippians 2:19-23; II Timothy 1:15-18

Blessed Are the Dead Who Die in the Lord

I recently attended the funeral of a relative whom I did not know very well. Some who knew the man well lacked assurance as to his eternal well-being, and sorrowed over the uncertainty.   The uncertainty was due to the inconsistent Christian walk and testimony of the deceased loved one. However difficult a person’s passing may be for family and friends, it would only be my desire with God’s help to speak comfort to their burdened hearts by bringing some scriptural clarity to what it means to have “died in faith” (Hebrews 11:13), or to “die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13).

The Bible does not direct us to look at the failures of Christians who die, or we might never have the assurance that a soul is merely “absent from the body” but “present with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:8). It is possible that even the godliest believer commits a sin of the flesh or spirit immediately prior to death, and if that disqualifies one from dying in the Lord, how can we have assurance for anyone in their passing?

Repentance from every sin committed, even the very last one, is sometimes put forth as a prerequisite for entrance into God’s presence upon death. However, repentance is a change of mind and heart toward God and His claims upon a person, and does not really refer to an exhaustive confession of individual sins committed throughout one’s life. How worrisome would it be to the soul if a believer lived in fear that some sin of the flesh or spirit was not discerned or properly confessed? This is not at all the will of the Father for His own dear children. When John tells us in I John 1:7 that “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all (every) sin”, it is in light of the truth that He “bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (I Peter 2:24), and those who are “in the light” are in the good of this abstract and objective guarantee. The confession of our individual sins in I John 1:9 is in view of the practical cleansing a believer needs on a daily basis for fellowship with Christ and enjoyment of Him.¹

Hebrews 11 is often called the “faith chapter”, and we are given a long list of names in that chapter who “died in faith”. How many imperfections might we find in each of these who are commended by God for their faith? Was not Abraham justified by faith before his failure in the matter of Hagar and Ishmael? Was not David assured that the Lord would not impute sin to him,² though he sinned and acted foolishly numerous times? Was not Samson guilty of a sad departure from God, as well as a suicidal death?  (Judges 16:30)  Yet he also had faith, and it saved him in spite of all his failures, because God claimed him as His own. Jephthah was harsh and hasty, Isaac was apparently given to an inordinate appetite for good food that dimmed his spiritual eyesight, but what they did for God, they did by faith, and all is recorded for us to learn from. Their failures are all hidden in the New Testament, with but one exception.³

God’s dividing line in the matter of one’s eternal destiny is not whether or not every sin committed was properly confessed, or whether or not a man exhibits faith to his family and friends in the last days of his life. He divides the human race on the basis of whether or not one is born again by grace, and consequently has faith in the testimony of God with regard to His Son. The Lord Jesus put it plainly for the comfort of the believer’s soul: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24). The Lord did not intend for this great truth to be weakened by our conditions.

For the possession of new life (the new creation – II Corinthians 5:17) is in the final analysis the determining factor in one’s eternal destiny. All who have ever had new life from God throughout history are enjoying Him now, awaiting the resurrection. New life in Christ does not guarantee sinless perfection, but neither is that new life (the new nature) affected by the believer’s failures in the flesh, when he or she stoops to heed the desires of the flesh for a time, incurring the Father’s chastisement (Hebrews 12:5-11). This teaching is shown to be true by the warning and assurance wrapped up together in one verse in Ephesians 4:  “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption”.

If the departed soul had eternal life and sealing by the Spirit, any fleshly act in his life no doubt grieved that Spirit.  But a sin could never negate the impartation of that life, nor undo the Spirit’s seal, which is unto the day of the redemption of our bodies, at the resurrection of the just. When a loved one dies who confessed Christ as Savior and Lord, our loving Father would desire to afford us the comfort of looking in hindsight for the evidences of that new life, which is the fruit of the Spirit of God, even if much of that Christian’s work may be burned up when “the day” declares it.*   For if he was a true believer, “he himself shall be saved”, but so as through the fire.

 

¹   John 13:7-11;  Ephesians 5:26

²   Romans 4:8

³   Romans 11:2

*   Galatians 5:22-23;  I Corinthians 3:12-15

What Causes Division in the Church?

There may be no failure so evident and so pervasive in Christendom over the last 500 years since the Reformation than the splintering of the Christian testimony into hundreds of sects founded on various teachings or following competing leaders. The failure is great because both the prototype and the principle of the church’s unity on earth were so pristine and ideal. There are few things more striking in the New Testament than the unity and love by which that prototypical assembly in Jerusalem functioned, as seen in Acts 2-15. How far the testimony of the church has fallen!

The Lord Jesus first laid down the principle of unity: “That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us” (John 17:21).  The apostle Paul provides an illustration to the Corinthians, who were perhaps the earliest to manifest divisive tendencies¹: “Now are they many members, yet but one body” (I Corinthians 12:20). Each heart that honors Christ as Head of the body cannot but be grieved on His account for the disunity of the Christian testimony. But an outward unity of the whole church of God, in testimony toward the world, is impossible for any of us to restore, no matter our love or zeal for it. Ecumenism is not the answer, for there will not be a maintenance of holiness or righteousness where the underlying reasons for the divisions and disunity are ignored and glossed over by men, since “God requires that which is past” (Eccl. 3:15; I Kings 12 & 13; Rev. 18:4-7). Neither is the solution to break away from an established group with problems in order to start our own independent assembly, perhaps with better intentions or nicer people, for it would leave us with just another division, and perhaps no more truth or unity.

So what then are the causes of the divided state of the church of God? Or what causes rifts in individual assemblies? All believers must admit in their consciences that there has been general failure in “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), and I would suggest there is a primary cause for the failure:  Reserving for oneself a right to choose one’s own religion or church. This diagnosis may sound strange to many believers, so allow me to explain further.

The words “heretic” (Titus 3:10) and “sects” or “factions” (I Corinthians 11:19, Galatians 5:20) are based on the Greek hairéomai, which means to prefer, or to choose². The sects called Pharisees and Saducees (Acts 5:17; 15:5) were results of the choices and preferences many Jews had made prior to the Lord’s first coming, and they bore similarities to denominations in our day. (Even the early Christians were called a sect, though they never considered themselves that – Acts 24:5, 15 and 28:22.) A heretic, or divisive person, is very often simply a Christian leader who draws saints after himself, perhaps by seemingly innocuous methods. Nevertheless, where pride of this sort is not judged for what it is, Corinthian sectarianism¹ bears the fruit of its disobedience just one more time in the church’s long history. Whenever we reserve for ourselves a “right to choose” our church affiliation or leader according to our preferences, we become guilty of sectarianism, and so at least tacitly approve of division in the church of God.

What is an earnest Christian to do if he or she ought not to choose a church based on preferences? The only scriptural principle of action when a believer is troubled about his religious or ecclesiastical associations is obedience. When Moses instructed Israel on the matter of acceptable worship to Jehovah when they would enter the land of Canaan, he addressed it as a matter of obedience to God, both as to the manner and location for worship. “Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: but in the place which the Lord thy God shall choose, there shalt thou offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee” (Deut. 12:1-14). The ramifications of obedience or disobedience to this command are seen frequently in the rest of the Old Testament. The old forms and location of worship do not apply to Christians, but the principle of obedience to the apostles’ doctrine does apply. Faith has no other operative principle than obedience.

A powerful example of an attitude of obedience to the Holy Spirit’s direction on how and where believers should meet for worship is found in Luke 22.  The Lord Jesus asked Peter and John to go on ahead and prepare the Passover, so that He could enjoy this memorial act of worship one more time with His disciples. They instinctively knew that it would be quite inappropriate for them to act upon their own preferences in finding a place, so they evidenced their dependence on the Lord in this question: “Where wilt Thou that we prepare?” He was ready with a clear answer in response to their sincere dependence upon Him, and the answer ought to speak to the heart of a believer even now, for it has a distinctly typical meaning. “Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in.”  In other passages of scripture, we find that an unnamed servant represents the Spirit of God, and that water is a picture of the word of God,³ so it should not be difficult to understand the typical meaning of the Lord’s answer.

Does the error of partisanship and exalting leaders (whether from the recent or distant past) trouble you? It is encouraging to see the occasional individual exercised in his or her conscience to leave a religious group whose tradition, geographical or cultural limits, and sometimes its denominational or congregational name,* attests to its divisive inception. Such repentance and separation from what dishonors Christ, coupled with a desire to obey the Spirit’s leading according to the principles of the word of God, will be honored by Him.°

Choosing a church, or preferring one Christian leader above another, is not the path of obedience and faith, for it effectively perpetuates the historical failure of the church in maintaining the unity of the Spirit. If a Christian who finds the religious scene confusing is obedient to the Spirit of God (who always guides according to the word of God), blessing and satisfaction in God’s will is sure to be its pleasant fruit.

 

¹   I Corinthians 1:10-13; 3:3-6; 4:6-7; 11:17-20

²   As, for example, in Philippians 1:22, in a different context.

³    Servant: Genesis 24; Luke 14:17; John 16:13-15.  Water:  John 3:5; 13:10; Eph. 5:26

*   For example:  Lutheran, Calvinist, Mennonite, Hutterite; Zwingli, Wesley, St. Peter

°   II Timothy 2:15-22

“Limited Atonement” Examined

One of the tenets of John Calvin’s system of theology holds that the atonement made for sin by our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross is limited in scope to God’s elect – those souls chosen by Him before the foundation of the world. Let’s take a brief look at that teaching of “Limited Atonement”, which is the “L” in the TULIP acronym subscribed to by “five point” Calvinists.

Believers take comfort and rejoice in the plain words of the Lord Jesus in John 3:16, that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” While some Calvinists have argued that the “world” in this verse means only the elect (a strained interpretation of the Greek word cosmos), most Christians would agree to this: that God desired the salvation of the entire fallen human race, and that He sacrificed His dearly-loved Son in order to offer salvation to all sinners.  Sadly, all do not believe on Christ for eternal life.

Why does it matter whether or not Christ’s atoning work has all men for its scope? Because both the truth of the love of God and the integrity of the scriptures are at stake, as they relate to men’s consciences. We have already addressed the scope of the love of God as being toward the whole world; now let us take note of what the scriptures have to say about the atonement.

The man Christ Jesus “gave Himself a ransom for all”, and “He died for all”, showing that all men were under the sentence of death¹.  What is helpful about this passage in II Corinthians 5, as it relates to the scope of the atonement, is that “they which live” (as new creatures in Christ) are viewed as a subset of the “all [who] were dead”. One could hardly make sense of a teaching that declares the word “all” within this narrow context to have two or three different meanings that are not coextensive in scope. But “they which live” – now there we have a group smaller and infinitely more privileged than the whole mass of mankind.

It is this smaller group of souls who have new life, and whose sins are washed away because the Lord Jesus bore them “in His body on the tree”². He suffered the wrath of a righteous God for the sins of all who believe on Him, and we see this clearly in Isaiah 53:5, 10-12. Peter refers to this remarkable prophecy when he quotes it: “By His stripes we are healed.”  This is usually referred to as the substitutionary aspect of Christ’s work, because He stood in as the perfect Substitute for all believers of every age, suffering for our sins because we could never bear the righteous judgment of God for them in order to stand in His presence as “holy and without blame” (Ephesians 1:4).

Yet at the same time the Lord Jesus was bearing the sins of believers, He was making atonement or “propitiation for . . . the whole world” (I John 2:2). In this aspect of His work, He purified the “heavenly things” with His own blood, an infinitely better sacrifice than ever was used to purify the earthly tabernacle.³  God has been propitiated (or appeased)  with respect to every sin ever committed against Him by members of the human race, so that He can reach out to man in mercy, without compromising His holy character (Romans 3:25-26; Psalm 85:10).

The two goats presented before Jehovah on the Day of Atonement provide a picture of this two-fold nature of Christ’s atoning work (see Leviticus 16). One goat was not enough to show in type how the Lord Jesus not only made atonement in the sanctuary for the totality of the sin and uncleanness of the people, but also acted as the sin-bearer, bearing confessed sins away forever. The first goat was Jehovah’s lot, and the effect of its offering was universal and general in propitiating God, providing a righteous basis for Him to be merciful toward all.  The second goat was the Scapegoat, and it took confession of sins and a transfer of guilt (v. 21) for the atonement to be effectual for the sinner.  Scriptures like Psalm 22:1-3, Psalm 69:1-9, Isaiah 53, and Matthew 27:45-46 show clearly how the Lord Jesus suffered under the judgment of God for three dark hours on Calvary for the sins of all of His own. Sadly, all who reject God’s mercy in Christ must suffer for their own sins, as shown clearly in John 8:24, Romans 2:8-9, and Revelation 20:12-13.

Believers on Jesus can know that He bore their sins, that He was their Substitute under the judgment of a righteous God, for they have by faith had their sins “laid on Him”. And they can have the comfort of knowing that for their unbelieving neighbors or family members, Christ is the Propitiation (Mercy-seat)* for all.  The offer of mercy and salvation ought never to be spoken of as limited, as though it had not the whole world for its scope. We have reason to speak of a definite atonement, or a particular atonement, for all who avail themselves of the offer of eternal life, and whose sins are borne away, but the infinite work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross should never be called a “limited atonement”.

 

¹   I Timothy 2:6; II Corinthians 5:14-15

²   Revelation 1:5; I Peter 2:24

³   Hebrews 9:23; Leviticus 16:15-19

*   Romans 3:25

The Voice of the Shepherd

Many voices clamor to be heard in our modern world.  With the advances in technology over the past century, broadcast media and (more recently) social media have made it possible for almost any forceful and persistent voice to be heard.  Add to that the fact that in most of the Western world the concept of freedom of speech is held in high esteem, and we have a social environment in which there is little restraint of either constructive or destructive, of either gracious or hateful, messages. As long as God is merciful in allowing the gospel of His grace and sound teaching to be disseminated via this array of media, much blessing is able to come by means of them to saint and sinner.

But there is also great cause for concern among faithful Christian teachers, evangelists, and pastors (shepherds). The world system is under the power of the “god of this world” (Satan), who seeks to blind the minds of unbelievers, so that the light of the gospel of Christ’s glory won’t shine out for their salvation and blessing.¹  Satan is not standing idly by and allowing the truth of God’s word to be faithfully preached and taught in its unadulterated essence. One of His many “devices”² in recent years seems to be to clutter the broadcast and social media space with a mixture of truth and error.

The Lord Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd, who would lay down His life for His sheep (John 10). In that same discourse to unbelieving Jews, Jesus spoke of His sheep as those who hear His voice and follow Him, all the while being known (and foreknown³) by Him. The Lord elsewhere spoke of Himself as the Son of God who quickens (gives life to) whomever He will among men, and with that comes the ability to hear His voice and enjoy eternal life (John 5:21-25). Any desire we have to follow Him as our Shepherd is a result of that new life within our souls. The necessary implication of that desire to follow the Lord Jesus is that we must be able to discern between the voices in the Christian profession that are misleading, as contrasted with those that are channels for the Shepherd’s voice, exhorting us to follow Him.

Nehemiah, an Old Testament saint with the discernment that accompanies spiritual life, refused to take the course of action recommended by one of his Jewish countrymen that professed to be a prophet. That act of going into the temple for refuge would have put him in a compromising and unscriptural position (Nehemiah 6:10-12). “And, lo, I perceived that God had not sent him”, he writes, and we can take courage from that to refuse the voices and “prophecies” that will bring compromise, disobedience, and the “spirit of fear”.*

The truth that the believer in Christ is indwelt by the Holy Spirit allows for even keener discernment as to the truth or error of a teaching presented for our acceptance. “The anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him” (I John 2:27).  God gives us teachers to help us understand the word of God, but we need only the Spirit of God to recognize the truth, which is embodied in the Shepherd’s voice (John 1:17; 14:6).

For a little help in understanding how a Christian can act on this principle practically in a fragmented Christendom today, I give here a few examples of religious teachings that do not bear the character of our Shepherd’s voice:

  • That believers in Christ will enjoy health and prosperity in this life as a result of their faith.
  • That salvation and eternal life come by doing good works, and are maintained by our efforts.
  • That miraculous signs or speaking in “tongues” is required evidence of new life by the Spirit of God.
  • That obedience to authoritarian dictates from the clergy or to church rules pleases God.
  • That God approves of recent reinterpretations of His moral standards (particularly with regard to sexuality).
  • That the act or the manner of meeting with other Christians is a matter of personal preferences.
  • That Christians have a duty to involve themselves in the politics and warfare of this world.^

Now the matter of our motives must be addressed as well in this regard. The Lord Jesus spoke these searching words: “If any one desire to practice His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is of God . . .” (John 7:17, Darby translation). How prone we are to falter in this exercise, even as believers!  But the Christian has no promise of discernment without this component to the life of faith: a desire to please God.

I do not deny the power of God in using His word to quicken and save a soul, even if presented in mixture with error.  But sadly, too much of what passes for Christian teaching is but an admixture of the truth with fleshly or worldly principles, catering to either the pride or lust of men, and the results can be destructive of faith. Those who teach Christians ought to call out this element for what it is.

Believers can enjoy something much better than a confusing cacophony of religious voices; we have the capacity both to hear the voice of the Shepherd, and to follow Him while enjoying His perfect gift of eternal life.

 

¹   II Corinthians 4:4

²  Or designs, or thoughts – II Corinthians 2:11

³   John 10:16,27,29

*   II Timothy 1:7

^   Scripture references addressing these false teachings will be given later in the comments section, or upon request.

Devaluing the Lord’s Table

Every Christian instinctively knows that he or she ought to value the things that God values. After all, believers have a new nature, a nature like Christ, so that the appropriate valuation of the things of Christ is normal Christianity. But most of us are so prone to distraction and having other things compete for our time and energy that normal and godly desires are only maintained and acted on with much diligence and discipline.

One realm in which this principle applies is that of attendance at meetings of Christians. Going “to church” but once a week for an hour on Sunday morning has become the norm for many Christians. Because of the lack of energy in spending time collectively in the presence of the Lord Jesus, many sadly miss out on the full enjoyment of  Christian experience and fellowship that can be found in the various kinds of meetings taught and patterned for us in the Scriptures.

Almost as soon as the assembly of God was founded by the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the testimony of the scriptures is that “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine (teaching) and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).  It seems clear that the early Christians understood the value of each of these meetings, whether for teaching, for worship and praise, or for prayer.  I would suggest that they did not soon let the various characters of these meetings get out of balance in their corporate experience as saints. We find prayer meetings spoken of in Acts 4:24-30, 12:12, and 16:16. We know that teaching took place regularly in meetings of saints by reading Acts 4:31, 11:25-26, 20:7-11, and I Corinthians 14.  And of course, meetings for breaking bread by those purged worshipers were held often, perhaps even more often than weekly at the very beginning, as found in Act 2:46, 20:7, I Corinthians 11:17-34.

Let’s consider the meeting for breaking bread, designated in I Corinthians 11 as the Lord’s supper, to be enjoyed at the Lord’s table.¹  Many believers have the desire for and the privilege of breaking bread in remembrance of the Lord at his table on a weekly basis, normally on the Lord’s day. But there are several attitudes and practices, that if allowed and cultivated, will serve to devalue this precious meeting it our souls, to a level far below what I am convinced is the Lord’s valuation of it.

For more than 1000 years, a ritualistic Christianity carried on the early church’s tradition of observing the Lord’s supper at least weekly, or even more frequently, but sadly, the simple significance of the supper was lost and the communion of the blood and body of Christ became a ritual mass.  It seems apparent that the Lord’s supper at His table was greatly devalued during the Middle Ages, and it is likely that the lifeless ritual it became resulted in some segments of the Reformation responding by decreasing significantly the frequency of the “communion service”. Some Christians still make the case that an infrequent communion helps them avoid the danger of having it become routine, which would apparently foster an indifference to it or a devaluation of it in their hearts. But might not the unintended result of an infrequent remembrance of the Lord Jesus be rather just a devaluation of another kind? I leave this for individual consciences to grapple with.

Some of us have observed a regrettable trend among Christians who meet to break bread each Lord’s day, and also meet for prayer and teaching (ministry) on that day or other days of the week.  Among these brethren, the Lord’s supper and its frequent, fervent observance have been emphasized over many generations. There is no question that this is honoring to the Lord Jesus, and precious in His sight, as scriptures like Luke 22:7-20 and I Corinthians 11:17-29 show us plainly. But did either the Lord or His apostles intend that the importance and gravity of this special institution, this meeting of gathered saints for remembrance and worship, eclipse and render unnecessary the other meetings for which we have a clear pattern in the word of God? I trust that in the consciences of most believers there would echo an unequivocal “no” to this rhetorical question.

It takes real diligence and discipline to cultivate and maintain balance in our Christian lives.²  In light of that principle, I suggest that a lack of diligence or interest in attending and enjoying meetings for prayer and ministry, while maintaining the habit of attending the meeting for the remembrance of the Lord, may result in a regrettable devaluation in one’s heart of all of the meetings of the saints. There is a danger of ritualism in each of our hearts, perhaps even in the thought that there is something meritorious in partaking of the Lord’s supper. Far be the thought. May God continue His work in us by the Spirit, so that we might enjoy Christ in all of our meetings, for He so desires to be found often in the midst of His own³ while they look to Him and await His soon return.

 

¹  I Corinthians 10:21 and 11:20. The Lord’s table and the Lord’s supper have distinct meanings, but for purposes of this article, we consider them together.

²   See, for example, II Peter 1:5-12.

³   Matthew 18:19-20; 28:16-17; John 20:19-29

Predestination Misconception

During a recent Bible reading and teaching meeting in which the subject of God’s sovereignty and predestination came up, someone asked a question that might be paraphrased this way:  Are believers predestinated to be a member in a particular fellowship of Christians? It was a sincere and well-intentioned question, and thankfully there were others present who were able to clear up the misconception that gave rise to the question.

Scriptural predestination is neither fatalism nor determinism, both of which are hyperbolic “straw man” concepts set up by some teachers in order to detract from the real truth of the complementary doctrines of election and predestination.  The principle of the flesh in man (including fleshly religion) does not care to receive or attain to anything that it has not worked for and achieved by its own effort, and therefore doubts or downplays God’s sovereign electing and predestinating grace.

The Bible gives us the truth of predestination in two passages.  “[God] has chosen us in [Christ] before the world’s foundation . . . having marked us out beforehand (predestinated) for adoption through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will” (Ephesians 1:4-5 Darby translation).  “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). The blessed truth is that God marks us out beforehand as individuals for the dignified position of sonship that He brings us into. The consummation of our adoption as sons of God will occur when our bodies are redeemed and we are fully conformed to Christ’s image (Romans 8:23, 24, 29), but we have already been given a “spirit of adoption”. We who are Christ’s own can actually know even now in our spirits¹ that we will certainly experience that final aspect of our adoption to sonship, which is the redemption of our bodies. A destination is at the end of either a journey or a process, and we have simply been marked out for that “destination” of sonship beforehand, so that we can already live in the conscious enjoyment of it!

But what about the intermediate steps of the journey, of the pathway of faith? Are those ever spoken of in the word of God as being determined beforehand?

There is one sovereign act that the Spirit of God does in us by the Word² of God, according to His own will, and in which neither our will nor inclinations had a part. It is new birth, or quickening (John 1:13; 3:1-12; James 1:18). Before that point, we operated entirely according to our own will and desires, according to the spirit of the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:1-3). When once we who were spiritually dead sinners are born again by His sovereign choice and will, God continues His work in us, using whatever internal promptings or external circumstances He chooses in order to facilitate our desiring and then doing His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 3:10). Some might call this joint work “synergism”.

The work of the Spirit of God in quickening a soul by the Word² is a perfect work, in that an incorruptible, sinless life or nature is imparted to one who was once only a willful sinner (I John 3:9; I Peter 1:23, 25). But after that point in a new-born soul’s life here on earth, the level of conformity to Christ and the progress of growth in the soul are dependent upon the believer’s cooperation with the Spirit, upon obedience to Him. God now has the new nature to work with, but the extent to which the believer allows the flesh (the old nature) to act determines the spiritual progress he makes, as well as the amount of fruit he or she bears in this life while waiting for the Lord Jesus to call believers home. Only then will perfect conformity to Him be attained.³

When we who are Christ’s at last realize that glorious destiny, there will be rewards given out for faithfulness, including what the scriptures call “crowns”.* The Bible does not teach the deterministic or fatalistic notion that every deed done over the whole course of our lives was predestinated to occur just the way it did.  However, the very fact that we will even be there with Christ in glory to receive any reward is solely because of God’s unilateral, sovereign work in quickening our souls so that faith and fruit for Him can result. Our Father so much desires that His children bear fruit for Himself as a result of the atoning sufferings of His Son on the cross of Calvary (Isaiah 53:11-12), that His work in our souls by grace, and His control of our circumstances according to His mercy, will continue until the day of Christ. In that day of the glory of the Lord Jesus, and the “revelation of the sons of God,” I believe that you and I will look back with wonder, and praise Him alone for His sovereign grace in shepherding us all our lives long until that day.º

 

¹  His Spirit bears witness with our spirit as to our place in God’s family. (Romans 8:16)

²   Logos in Greek

³   II Corinthians 3:18; Romans 12:2; Ephesians 2:10; 4:13, 30; I John 3:2-3

*   Matt. 25:23; II Cor. 5:10; II Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; I Pet. 5:4; II Pet. 1:10-11; Rev. 3:11; 4:10

º   Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:28; Genesis 48:15 (Darby translation)