Polygamy, Slavery, Racial Prejudice, and Military Conquest: Then and Now

It may be jarring to the Christian conscience to allow it to sink in that King David practiced all of the social evils listed in the heading above:  polygamy, slavery, racial prejudice, and military conquest.¹  Carrying on in these seemingly abusive or destructive ways, at least by modern Western society’s standards, did not not annul the testimony of David that he would be a man after Jehovah’s own heart (I Samuel 13:14). God called Abraham His “friend” after he was long dead (Isaiah 41:8), yet the patriarch accepted and practiced some of the ills on this list, as so many other godly souls did in ancient times.

It may be tempting to believe that Western society has moved beyond these practices in recent decades through what might be called “social evolution”.  The Mormon religion practiced and encouraged polygamy in America until it was outlawed over 100 years ago. Slavery has only been eradicated (or at least has gone under cover) from the Western world for a little over 150 years, and institutionalized racial supremacy for a little more than 50 years. Militant imperialism mostly faded away in the West as a result of the Second World War.  Progressive humanism takes the credit for improvements in the fabric of society and in the national and international laws that allow men to live free from these threats and abuses, while at the same time accepting many other moral evils that are just as destructive, but more insidious.

However, there is no doubt in the mind of an instructed believer in Jesus that Christianity, not humanism, and not any other religion or belief system, was and is responsible for the change in the way modern civilized societies view these scourges. It is greatly to be regretted that many who organized themselves under the Christian banner, from Constantine and the Roman church, to the Mormon cult, to the Southern Baptist sect, championed or defended one or another of the ideas or ideologies in the list above during various periods of the Christian era. If anyone is in need of a brief refresher course in Christendom’s history, it was Constantine’s “conversion” in 312 A.D. that introduced the idea of employing carnal weapons of war² to conquer under the sign of the cross, purportedly seen by him in a vision. The Roman church continued that ideology through the centuries until it became politically expedient to use less violent means to their ends. Mormon polygamy has already been pointed out. And many in this century have likely forgotten that the raison d’être of the Southern Baptist Convention was the defense of slavery based on a faulty understanding of the scriptures. Of course, the racial prejudice and segregation that were integral to the institution of slavery in the Americas has died a very slow death in some segments of the Christian profession. Oh, the leavening effect of these and so many others of Satan’s devices that has permeated the “great house” of Christendom.³

Why did God allow these ideas and practices among His people of old, even among true saints, before Christ came?  This article is too brief to cover this question in detail. In any case, we should be careful not to consider them as moral equivalents of each other across the board.  We cannot but believe that polygamy was never in God’s plan for His people, for the practice originated among the early descendants of the rebel Cain, although the Law that Moses received from Jehovah in the establishment of the old covenant did not forbid it. The Law did restrict some of the worst abuses of polygamy (Deuteronomy 17:17 and 21:15) as it regulated the related practice of divorce, both of which were results of the selfish and lustful hearts of men. But perhaps God allowed this perversion to continue under regulation for the ultimate purpose of setting forth in stark relief the surpassing character of Christ’s and Christianity’s teaching on the dignity and worth of the woman. Matthew 19:3-9, I Corinthians 7 and 11:11-12, and I Peter 3:7 are abundantly clear as to the equality of rights enjoyed by male and female in the marriage relationship.

Slavery and servitude was regulated under the Law of Moses as well, but the practice predates the Law by centuries, no doubt.  One who was really a “bondman” and not merely a “hired servant” (Leviticus 25:6) had no right to direct his own activities or live according to his own rules while under bondage. However, passages such as Exodus 21 give rules for the fair treatment of slaves, and in Deuteronomy 23:15-16, we find a refreshing provision that further distinguishes Old Testament slavery from the evil depths to which a “Christian” America descended, as epitomized in the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.  “Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee: he shall dwell with thee, even among you, in the place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him.”

Christians are instructed to be even more merciful toward those who serve them, as we find in passages like Ephesians 6:9 and Colossians 4:1. There is no thought here of holding a person for service against his or her will. The apostle Paul pleads with the godly Philemon for the elevation of his former slave (bondman) to a position of equality in Christ.  So while God allowed slavery to be practiced in former times as an example to the believer that we are not our own to do as we please, but are rather the bondmen of Christ (I Corinthians 7:22), He clearly puts servitude and employment on a much higher and more dignified plane in Christianity.

Racial prejudice was used by Jehovah, in commandments found in the Law, to make a clear distinction between Israel (whom He had chosen for His own pleasure) and the ungodly, idolatrous nations around them (e.g.: Deuteronomy 23:3). Of course, there are many examples of individuals from those nations that believed the living and true God. But that racial distinction that Jehovah made has as one of its purposes to teach believers now that there is a “racial” distinction between those who are born again and have received “justification of life” (Romans 5:18; I John 5:1-4),  and those who are still by nature the “children of wrath”. Now under the blessing of the teaching of Christianity, as to the racial differences of ethnic heritage and skin tone, “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

As to the use of military power to conquer or subjugate other peoples, or even in defense of a land once conquered thus, there is no pattern nor command in all of the New Testament that indicates this is meant to be the place of a believer in Christ.  The Christian’s portion is heavenly, and we “wrestle not against flesh and blood”, but with spiritual weapons against (quite literally) spiritual enemies. God had His purposes in using His saints of old in earthly warfare, both for the judgment of His enemies (the ungodly nations), and to prefigure the heavenly warfare that the Christian ought to be fighting with all courage and faithfulness (Ephesians 6:10-18). The very character and nature of Christianity is contrary to the use of force to obtain or maintain temporal benefits, and scriptural texts to that effect are almost too numerous to list (e.g.: John 18:36; I Thessalonians 5:15; Hebrews 12:14; etc.).

The shining light of Christianity, as taught by the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles, brings with it blessing, peace, and hope wherever and whenever it has been received and practiced in faith. Where it has been perverted or corrupted by the mind of the flesh in man, there has been sorrow and misery.  Where that light has been violently extinguished, or where it has not yet reached, it is surely by the sovereign goodness of God’s restraining hand that nations and cultures have not succeeded in destroying themselves.


¹    I Chronicles 14:3; 18:9-13

²   See II Corinthians 10:4

³   See Matthew 13:33 and II Timothy 2:20


Healing and Peacemaking in the House of God

Audio version:

For almost as long as the church of God has been in existence on the earth, Satan, enemy of all God’s purposes in Christ, has worked to cause difficulties among Christians. We see this near the very beginning, in Acts 6, when discontent and complaining arose among the Grecian (Greek-speaking) Jewish believers against the Hebrew believers, because of the very practical matter of neglect in distribution to the widows. We are not told how serious was this neglect, nor whether there was hypersensitivity on the part of the murmurers, but we can be reasonably certain of these few facts: the potential rift was not doctrinal in nature, so that revealed Christian truth was not in imminent danger of being compromised; and that the twelve apostles, of Hebrew stock, were led to appoint the Grecian men whom the “whole multitude” had selected to administer the distributions and resolve this practical dilemma.

Sadly, since that happy ending to a tense situation, the Enemy has had much success over the centuries in dividing and alienating even real believers due to an endless number of disagreements over practical matters and personal feelings. Preferences or even godly personal exercises regarding matters of appearance and conduct, language or translation usage, hymn selection, locations and times and frequencies of meetings, involvement in gospel efforts, and many other similar practical considerations have played a part in the offences that brethren have allowed to divide them.

Suppose a situation in an assembly gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ in which a disagreement over a practical matter results in one or more of the brethren absenting themselves from the regular meetings of the assembly. Now we know that forsaking the assembling of ourselves together is exhorted against in Hebrews 10. It is also clear that any breach of fellowship between saints is the result of the allowance of the flesh, even a religious working of the flesh, and that the Spirit of God cannot approve of parties that, by their very existence, prove failure in keeping the unity of the Spirit. He cannot deny Himself by approving of sects that disregard the unity which He has formed in accordance with His own unity (Ephesians 4:3-4).

How then may separated souls be brought back into the enjoyment of practical fellowship with each other, so as to be able to keep in united testimony the unity of the Spirit? How can healing be wrought and peace restored among Christians? If these who have separated from each other through disagreements on practical matters condescend to viewing and treating each other as divisive persons as in Romans 16:17-18, it is doubtful that restoration “in the uniting bond of peace” will soon result. But a deep exercise of self-judgment and humility in communion with Christ will bring with it manifestations of the “fruit of the Spirit”, which alone can bring about restoration to real enjoyment of the Spirit’s unity. Disunity through lack of sincere love, and all of the fleshly manifestations that go with it, are in fact the context and reason for that wonderful list of spiritual fruit enjoined in Galatians 5: “Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, self-control.” This is the path to peace among brethren.

We must stipulate that unity or reconciliation of separated groups of Christians based on the principle of mutual concession is not of the Spirit of God, for that principle presumes to allow for compromise as to the truth. But it is reconciliation between individuals that may find its happy result in restored fellowship together at the Lord’s table, and it is most beautifully done through mutual confession of faults and failures. “Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that ye may be healed.”

This humble confession of fault or failure may be done at almost any time and under most circumstances without compromise to the truth of God. A company of believers professing to maintain a unity according to God on scriptural ground should never be guilty of uncaring attitudes or harsh words toward their brethren in Christ. Notice the fleshly character of Rehoboam and Judah during that awful rending of Israel’s unity.¹  Contrast against that the godly character of Hezekiah’s humility and confession that called forth and gave weight to his invitation to the tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel, to the end that they should repent and return to worship at Jerusalem, the place of Jehovah’s choosing.² Godly humility encourages repentance in others,³ and paves the way for the restoration of some who may be languishing in carnality or bitterness of soul.

We would do well to imitate the spirit of godly Hezekiah in his desire to bring some of his estranged brethren back. There are numerous New Testament principles that will aid us in the carrying out of such a desire, without conceding truth or compromising righteousness in our dealings, and here are some of them:

  • The strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak (Romans 15:1);
  • The worshiper ought to seek reconciliation with his brother before bringing his gift (Matthew 5:23-24);
  • Spiritual brethren are to take the initiative in restoring those overtaken in a fault (Galatians 6:1);
  • A believer ought to take the initiative in gaining back a brother who has sinned against him (Matthew 18:15-17);
  • Humility and submitting one to another in practical matters is a scriptural expectation (I Peter 5:5-6; Ephesians 5:21);
  • Saints are exhorted to confess their faults to one another, and prayer and intercession ought to be made on behalf of those in need of spiritual healing (James 5:16-20);
  • Christians are enjoined to “make straight paths for your feet, that that which is lame be not turned aside; but that rather it may be healed. Pursue peace with all, and holiness” (Heb. 12:13-14, Darby trans.); and
  • We may practice James’s teaching on bridling the tongue and wisdom from above, ending with this summary: “A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18 ESV).

The crowning joy of Hezekiah’s desire, confession, and prayer for collective pardon, was the blessing contained in this divine commentary: “The Lord hearkened to Hezekiah, and healed the people” (II Chronicles 30:18-20).  No doubt this was felt by all the godly souls there.  These things are examples for us who are responsible in the house of God, which is the church of God, and we can learn much from that which the Spirit records of their failure and healing. That healing is God’s work of grace, but peacemaking is our labor of love toward those whom He loves.


¹    I Kings 12

²    II Chronicles 30

³    I Peter 5:5-6


The Abortion Rights Deception

Today, the nation of Ireland held a referendum on whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment to its constitution, which was originally introduced after a referendum in 1983.  This amendment has effectively banned abortion in Ireland for decades, but the status of that amendment and the abortion ban is in question, pending today’s vote. It came as a shock to many in the pro-life movement, who are largely conservative or traditional Christians, that the Irish rock band U2 and its lead singer, Bono, while they had curried favor in religious circles for calling themselves “Christian”, have come out in support of repealing the abortion ban.

I do not write this to encourage believers to get involved in the political process to rid the world of the scourge of abortion (as one among many evils in the world), but I respect those whose consciences and love for nascent souls constrain them to speak and act in defense of the unborn. And I do not suppose that many who are taking the time to read these words need to be persuaded from the scriptures that an unborn child is human being as much as an infant who has seen light (Job 3:11-16).  My concern is rather that Christians can allow themselves to be affected or even deceived by the insidiousness of progressive, post-modern thinking in matters of morality.

The stealthy and insidious nature of moral progressivism may be seen even in the language or choice of words used to define moral issues. For example, the Hebrew word tsedeq is rendered in the King James Version using two almost interchangeable English words: “Righteousness” (from an Anglo-Saxon root) and “justice” (from Latin). But you will scarcely in our day hear or read the term “righteousness” outside of the realm of religious teaching, while the term “justice” (or injustice) is ubiquitous. I suspect that this is because the former reminds the worldly man that there is a righteous God who has moral claims upon him, while the latter term has over the years been all but stripped of reference to an absolute standard of morality, of right and wrong. “Social justice” has sadly devolved into the positioning of man at the center of the moral universe, and corresponds with the principles of secular humanism. It is noteworthy that most people fighting the political war for social justice are not particularly interested in eliminating the injustice of abortion.

The millions of innocent victims of abortion and infanticide should cause grief in the hearts of any who are old enough to be parents, not to mention brothers and sisters. It may be true that some of those whose lives were ended prematurely in this post-modern holocaust would have had a difficult life should they have been brought into the world, perhaps even worse than the temporary affliction Job complained about so bitterly when he wished to have died in his mother’s womb. Christians who understand and enjoy the power of the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ for the human race are certain that these innocents (in will and practice) are safely with Him even now. In that, our grief for these little ones is tempered by the much better portion that is theirs in heaven (Matthew 18:10-14).

But this blessing for the individual soul that comes via a violent death could be said of martyrs for Christ just as well, for “to be with Christ . . . is far better” (Philippians 1:23).  A blessed end for the innocent or righteous does not mitigate the guilt of those that perpetrate the evil in any case, but rather, we could make the case from the Bible that the guilt of the murderer increases relative to the degree of innocence in the victim. We can see this principle in the murder of the Prince of Life, of whose guiltlessness there were seven distinct testimonies given within the last hours of His life. “Hands that shed innocent blood”¹ are among the greatest of abominations to God, as anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the Old Testament understands.

Above all, as to this matter of abortion rights, it is the deception of the progressive, post-modern system of morality that earnest Christians ought to be vigilant against and eschew.  That moral system and the social paradigm that comports with it have the interests, the supposed or arrogated rights, and the glory of mankind at their center, while the claims and prerogatives of God are largely ignored, as He Himself is ignored or marginalized. The principle of “sowing and reaping” is now despised as well. In the vast majority of cases in which abortion is desired or carried out, there were prior choices that the mother or the father, for whatever humanistic (self-centered) reason, wish not to have to bear the consequences of should the child be allowed to be born alive. In cases where the woman had no choice in the matter of the pregnancy, there is still the opportunity for choosing whether or not she will trust a compassionate God to comfort her and provide for her needs.   For as He alone is the One who gives life in conception, so He alone has the right to take an innocent life for His own glory and the child’s blessing, as the “Lord both of the dead and living”.²  Our entire system of morality and values hinges upon our view of God and His claims upon the man whom He created, and from whom He requires obedience.

“But this know, that in the last days difficult times shall be there [in the Christian world]; for men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money . . . disobedient to parents, ungrateful, profane, without natural affection . . . of unsubdued passions, savage, having no love for what is good . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; having a form of piety but denying the power of it: and from these turn away“.³ However, while the Lord knows how to punish these unrighteous ones in judgment in due time, it is most blessed to know that He knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation and deception,* and to keep them for His own pleasure and glory.


¹  Proverbs 6:17      ²  Romans 14:9      ³  II Timothy 3:1-5, Darby translation      *  II Peter 2:9:  Matthew 24: 22, 24


Keeping His Commandments

Many religious people believe the way to secure eternal blessing and avoid eternal destruction is through keeping the commandments of God. Some try to keep what are called the “Ten Commandments”¹ as found in the law of Moses, and others point to the principles of the kingdom of heaven that the Lord Jesus outlined in what we call “the sermon on the mount”.²  Still others believe that their final salvation is contingent upon their faithfulness in keeping all of the teachings of the apostles, variously given as commandments, ordinances, warnings, teaching, exhortations, etc. And it is certainly evidence of a godly state of soul for a Christian to be exercised about practicing New Testament teaching.

Coming closer to the essence of true Christianity, some may point to the “new commandment” the Lord gave His disciples in John 13:34, that they should “love one another”, as He has loved them. But I will be so bold as to make the claim that no one, not one soul, has ever been born again, or gained spiritual life, by keeping any commandment of God.

How is it that such an assertion can be made?  As to keeping the Old Testament law of Moses, it is very clear that the Lord Jesus Christ in dying annulled “the law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Ephesians 2:15), and that He blotted out the “handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross” (Colossians 2:14). So that, if keeping the commandments of the Mosaic law is ineffectual for receiving divine life after the cross, keeping them could never in any age have been effectual for receiving the “life of God” from His hand.

When one pleads obedience to the teachings of Jesus or of the apostles as necessary to receiving new life from God, he disagrees with the clear teaching of the scriptures that neither the impartation of divine life to us, nor God’s imputation of righteousness to us, has anything to do with works or obedience to commandments. Abraham obeyed no commandment of God in order to be justified, and the scriptures could not be clearer on that account. He simply believed in Jehovah and His promise, and He counted him righteous.³

But what then is the meaning of the apostle John’s teaching in I John 2:4: “He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him”?  I would submit that John wrote his first epistle for these two reasons, primarily:

  1. To give the believer in Jesus Christ the assurance that he (or she) has eternal life, because he has believed the testimony God gave of His Son, who “came in flesh” to the earth to shed His blood for the remission of sins (I John 5:6-21).
  2. To test the profession of those who claim to know God, but may be doing so falsely, as seen in the seven tests of profession in this epistle.°

John did not write his first epistle to give real believers any reason to doubt their profession and possession of eternal life, which they had gained by new birth and faith. If they sin, they have Jesus Christ the Righteous as their advocate with the One they already know as their Father (I John 2:1). If their hearts condemn them through some coldness or failure, they need the assurance that John gives — that God is greater than their hearts and knows all things, including the security of the relationship and how to restore the heart of His child to renewed confidence or boldness toward Him (I John 3:19-21).

We get some insight into what John means by keeping God’s commandments when we connect a few verses in this epistle. In I John 3:22-23, we find that the essence of keeping the commandment of God, what He commands, is to (1) believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and (2) to love one another, as Christ gave commandment in John 13 and 15.  This twofold commandment can be understood better when we look at two more verses:

  1. In I John 5:1, we read that “whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God”. The sense is given even better in another version: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God”, showing that new birth is the cause of faith in Christ, rather than the result.
  2. Also, in I John 4:7, we are told that “every one that loveth is (has been) born of God”.  Here, the evidence of new birth is a love that cannot be known or exercised by a person who is not yet born again.

So then, being born again and possessing eternal life do not come by keeping any commandments, for divine life is given when the Son of God, by the Spirit of God, communicates the Word of God to the soul of a dead, lost sinner. “The Son quickeneth  whom He will . . . the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live”.  The sinner does not even need to read the written word of the scriptures to receive new life, for the Lord Jesus still “speaks from heaven”, and “it is the Spirit which quickens”.*  It is the power of the living, life-giving Word of God, which never varies from the written word in the scriptures, that actually effects the change in a soul that the scriptures call the new birth.

Keeping the commandments of God, as given in John’s teaching, is not a grievous or difficult thing (I John 5:3), for it is a result of having the life and nature of God.  One who doesn’t believe on Christ or love the brethren is not keeping God’s commandments, and is shown to be lacking both a new birth and eternal life.  This wonderful epistle was inspired and written in such a way as to  provide both a true test of the profession, and a blessed assurance of the possession, of eternal life.


¹   Deuteronomy 4:13; 5:7-21

²   Matthew 5-7

³   Genesis 15:6; Romans 4

°   I John 1:6, 8, 10; 2:4, 6, 9; and 4:20

*   John 5:21, 25; 6:23; Hebrews 12:25; James 1:18

This Is Life Eternal

The Apostle John wrote more on the subject of eternal life than all the other inspired writers combined, for that line of truth was given him by the Spirit of God for our enjoyment in that life. It is too grand a subject to cover in detail here, but as eternal life is both precious and underappreciated, a few moments of meditation on it may serve to enhance our appreciation of its infinite value.

The Lord Jesus as Son of God came to manifest that eternal life which was with the Father from an eternal past. The Son had that life in Him, for eternal life, and light, and love, were intrinsic to the nature of the Godhead in trinity “in the beginning”.

But was the human race in a condition to be able to apprehend or appreciate the glory of the Word made flesh, the only-begotten Son come from the Father?  No indeed, and Ephesians 4:18 makes clear for us the character and state of fallen man after Adam and Eve were shut out of the Garden, where the tree of life remained unpartaken-of by man. Death reigned after Adam’s fall, and men became “darkened in understanding, estranged from the life of God” through ignorance and hardness of heart. We may therefore rightly use the term “divine life” to set forth in a general way the life that was in God, that is essential to His nature. We may also infer from this verse that God desired to share this life with the man whom He created, but that evil had brought in a terrible hindrance.

There was but one way in which God the Father could bring His fallen creature man into the sublime enjoyment of His life, eternal life. It was by sending His Son as the Word of life, to be made flesh and dwell among men, thus manifesting this life to them as the “light of men”, and finally as the Lamb of God who gave His flesh in death for the life of the world. Those to whom the Son gives life by His own gracious will are those who receive His testimony and walk in the light of that life, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses them from every sin.

Someone might ask: Did saints of old have divine life, given that they missed the privilege of seeing and receiving the Son sent into the world by the Father? For Jesus makes clear in His prayer to the Father in John 17 that the essence of life eternal is to know the Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He sent. That relational knowledge (of God as Father and the Son sent by Him as Savior) is really eternal life in the believer, the abundant life that the Lord spoke of in John 10. Believers before Christ therefore could not experience the life of God in its fullest character as “eternal life”. They looked for an everlasting life on this earth, but what God the Son came to reveal was a heavenly life that takes the possessor of it outside of space and time, up to heaven and the Father’s house. The Son will soon return for those who now have eternal life, as well as for all those of past ages who by abundant grace were quickened on the principle of “justification of life”.

II Timothy 1 helps us to understand better the change that occurred after the Lord Jesus came and the gospel began to be preached. It presents “our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has annulled death, and brought to light life and incorruptibility by the glad tidings.” Incorruptibility refers to the resurrection and glorification of the bodies of saints, and before Christ came, there was virtually no comprehension of that truth, for it is likely that they understood the resurrection of the righteous to be a sort of everlasting life on this earth, with bodies still made of dust. Incorruptibility has been brought to light for us by the glad tidings, but so also has the broader companion truth of “life”, eternal life in the Son. These precious things we take for granted were shrouded in mystery until the gospel of the Christ brought life and incorruptibility into the bright light of God’s revelation of Himself in the Son.

Now the psalmist David may have had more of an understanding of the life of God than others of his day, for he prophesied of the Messiah’s resurrection and life beyond the grave in Psalm 16: “Thou wilt make known to me the path of life: Thy countenance is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.” Then in the 36th Psalm, he makes mention of those things that can only be enjoyed by those who have God, the source of life: “They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of Thy house; and Thou wilt make them drink of the river of Thy pleasures. For with Thee is the fountain of life: in Thy light shall we see light.”  David by the Spirit caught these glimpses of that which we who possess eternal life can now enjoy to the fullest of our partial capacity, which increases as we grow in Christ:  Enjoyment and satisfaction in God, spiritual abundance, heavenly pleasures, and heavenly light.

The doctrine of eternal life is precious, for it is known only in Him who is “the true God, and eternal life.” And while it is as permanent as our position “in Christ” is permanent, eternal life is yet very subjectively enjoyed (or not) by the individual Christian. A brother now with the Lord used to give the analogy of an undersea diver with an air-supply tube sustaining him in a hostile environment, with the air picturing eternal life. We who believe may enjoy as much of it as we might want for the satisfaction of our souls while we live in this evil world, but we look forward to the day when we burst into that environment of heaven where eternal life pervades all, and the ebb and flow of our enjoyment is forever past.


Scriptures referenced:   John 1:1; Ephesians 4:17-18; I John 1:1-2; John 1:4; John 6:51; John 5:21; I John 1:7; John 17:3; John 10:10; Romans 5:17-18; II Timothy 1:10; I Corinthians 15:47; Psalm 16:10-11; Psalm 36:8-9; I John 5:20


Fear Not, Little Flock

Weakness and littleness are not qualities that the natural man values, and Christians also shrink from being perceived as insignificant in the world around them. The Lord in His goodness taught the apostle Paul the value of considering himself weak, through the instrumentality of a “thorn in the flesh”, lest he should become prideful and exalted in his thoughts as to his privileges and achievements.

While meditating on that portion of scripture in II Corinthians 12 recently, it struck me that, although the scope of the passage is really individual, we may well be comforted and encouraged by applying these principles corporately (at least in part) to a little testimony of believers gathered in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul took pleasure in weaknesses, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions, in straits, for Christ, “for when I am weak,” he said, “then am I strong.”  How could this paradox be true? It was in finding the grace of God to be sufficient for him in his confessed weakness, so that the “power of Christ” could dwell upon him. Ought it not be so collectively also, where little gatherings of believers, exercised likewise as individuals, are satisfied to take a weak and insignificant place in the world for Christ’s sake? Then all credit for any blessing through us accrues to Him. I have no doubt this would be according to “the mind of Christ”.

This is not to say that weakness in Christian assemblies is never due to worldliness and departure from “first love”. Sadly, that is too often the case, we ought to confess. But it was the Lord Jesus Himself who encouraged a few of His own, and by extension the “two or three” or more who would later be gathered in His name, when He said to them: “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”¹  That natural tendency to fear might be in expectation of coming persecutions, but in the context of the Lord’s word to them here, He seems to be referencing the fear of not having a place in this world, of being poor and despised as a little group of His followers.

To the assembly at Philadelphia, the Lord Jesus offers this encouragement: “Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name” (Revelation 3:8). This assurance is remarkable in that Jesus invites them to take courage in the blessed fact that He will act for them and for His glory by opening the doors they were powerless to open, and because the littleness of their power is linked to their devotion to His word and name. In stark contrast, Paul uses irony to challenge the Corinthian church’s high thoughts of themselves, when he writes: “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong” (I Corinthians 4:10). The fact that he just a few verses later speaks of them as being “puffed up” also indicates that the assembly at Corinth had very soon dispensed with the spirit of dependence upon the Lord that comes from rightly considering oneself weak and unimportant in the world.

Throughout the church age, starting not long after the church was established in power at the beginning of this dispensation, it has been the poor, despised, and weak saints that have the approbation of the Lord because of their dependence upon Him. We are assured of this first of all in the person and testimony of Paul, for at the end of his path of service, he was generally forsaken or thought lightly of by most in the Christian profession.²  The inspired record also tells us that the church at Smyrna was poor (yet rich spiritually), and Philadelphia’s weakness and devotion has been noted above (Revelation 2 & 3).

Church history bears witness to the same principles of riches in poverty and power through weakness. After all, the Head of the church “was crucified through (on the principle of) weakness”, yet He lives by the power of God (II Corintians 13:4).  The Paulicians of the seventh and eighth centuries were severely persecuted and decimated for seeking to follow Paul’s spirit and doctrine. The Waldensians of the later middle ages had a bright testimony for Christ against a backdrop of great spiritual darkness in the mass of the Christian profession. The earliest Anabaptists of the 16th century, though severely persecuted (and in some ways misguided), challenged the status quo of the church-state marriage that had obtained for more than 1000 years, the bane of which the much larger Protestant movement has never really understood or renounced even up to the present day. The far-reaching but largely unpopular (so-called) Plymouth Brethren movement of the 19th century had the benefit of a relatively tolerant era, along with the scholarship and faith of many individuals going before, so that according to one evangelical scholar, it had a significant impact on evangelical Christianity quite disproportionate to its numbers. Dispensational truth, the expectancy of the Lord’s imminent return, and a return to first principles in the body of Christ and house of God are all results of doors opened to the brethren by the Lord Himself.

It is not a virtuous thing to be few, despised, and weak, but saints nonetheless can take courage in knowing that the Lord Jesus takes note of and rewards not only individuals, but also gatherings or companies of saints that seek in dependence on Him to bear a clear testimony to His name. Given this truth, where would you be inclined to cast your lot in the Christian profession? With a religious system numbering more than a billion souls that claims succession from the apostles and has used its political power and power over consciences to reign on the earth while the Lord Jesus is gone to receive for Himself a kingdom?³  With an evangelical denomination claiming an attendance of millions each Sunday that only thinly veils its political power in swaying American elections?  Or with the largest or most vibrant church in your town, because you see power being manifested there in the music, the programs, the pastor?

“Who has despised the day of small things?” was the word of Jehovah regarding the small contingent of just a few tens of thousands of Jews whom He brought back from their captivity to build the second temple, a mere shadow of the one built by Solomon and indwelt with the glory of God.*  So let us take care to not despise littleness or apparent weakness in the collective testimony of a few that the Spirit of God has brought back to scriptural principles, and that He has raised up to bear witness to that wonderful name of the Lord Jesus Christ.


¹   Matthew 18:20; Luke 12:32

²   II Corinthians 10:10; 12:15;  II Timothy 1:15; 4:10-17

³   Luke 19:12

*   Zechariah 4:8-10; Ezra 3:8-13; II Chronicles 7:1-3

To Hold the Truth In Love

There is no bane so avoidable in the church, and no missed opportunity for blessing so regrettable, as failure by saints in the body of Christ to hold the truth in love.  Let us consider the scriptural imperative for carefully maintaining both of these balancing principles: truth and love.

The church of God is presented in the New Testament using several different analogies, including a “house” and a “body”. In I Timothy 3:15, we read of the necessity of appropriate behavior in the “house of God, which is the assembly of the living God, the pillar and base of the truth.” Pillars and bases (foundations) are architectural elements that go along with the picture of the church as a building, and we can understand from this passage that God’s revealed truth is to rest firmly here. Other religious groups or societies, including parachurch organizations, may seek to maintain Christian principles and biblical teaching, and that is commendable. However, it is to the assembly of God alone, functioning according to the New Testament’s teaching on the church, that God gives the commission for upholding (as on a well-grounded pillar) divine truth.

It should be clarified at this point that the church as such does not teach, as organized religion has commonly held over the centuries. Rather, the assembly of God is taught by those teachers and pastors (shepherds) whom God gives as gifts to it. The assembly, if in a good state collectively, then judges the truth or error of that which is taught in it, receiving and growing by the truth, and rejecting the error. Assembly discipline and even excommunication is appropriate when a teacher persists in teaching error, and especially so when that teaching denigrates the glorious person of the Son of God or the infinite worth of the work of Christ.

As vital as it is to maintain the truth in every local expression of the body of Christ, we find in Ephesians 4 some very specific teaching on how it should be held or practiced. We are taught in that chapter about the body of Christ and its essential and practical unity, of the gifts given to build up the body, of its end goal of growing up to the “perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” The process of growth to that end, to the “unity of the faith”, assumes that the body of Christ is exercised in “holding the truth in love,” while taking care to avoid the deception of false teachers and their systematized error.¹

A Bible teacher once wrote: ‘But God is never satisfied with negative results, and it is not enough therefore that we should be shielded from error. He desires something more for us, that we, “holding [not merely speaking] the truth in love, may grow up unto Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ.” The knowledge of the faith is, as we have seen, the weapon which alone enables us to “hold the truth” amidst the “opposition of science falsely so called.” But there must be a corresponding state of soul, showing that the truth is operative in the heart as well as the mind, that it is forming the affections as well as the intellect. Hence the truth must be held in love; for without both of these there can be no “growing up unto Christ in all things.” Where, on the other hand, the truth of God is really held, not simply as an intellectual creed, but in love, the believer will grow up unto Christ – will become more and more assimilated in his walk and ways to the blessed Lord.’ ²

Attempting to maintain the truth of God without being collectively exercised about the imperative of doing so “in love” will eventually lead to legalism and division. The apostle Paul by the Spirit is careful to direct the hearts of the Corinthians to the “more excellent way” of love, after laying out for them the principles of truth as the body of Christ in I Corinthians 12 & 13. Without love, there is a real danger of pride and sectarianism, as Paul cautioned in using the body analogy practically in the second half of chapter 12.

In his second epistle to the Corinthians, in chapter 2, Paul begs the assembly to reaffirm their love toward the man they had had to put away because of the truth, for fornication (I Corinthians 5). For to put away a person so that the assembly can “keep the feast . . . with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”, and yet to fail in being ready to manifest love toward such as soon as there is evident repentance, is to fail to hold the truth in love. If love is already in proper exercise in the assembly, this display of love in restoring the backslider will be no difficulty, but will flow naturally from the hearts of those who are controlled by the love of Christ (II Corinthians 5:14).

When a local assembly fails to maintain the truth as taught by the Spirit of truth, it fails objectively as a testimony to the One who is “the Truth”.  And when such an assembly fails to maintain or hold that truth in love, it fails to subjectively demonstrate the love of God in Christ toward souls. Dispensing with the truth for the sake of an emotional love may draw in many souls with more interest in good feelings than truth.  Conversely, lacking the exercised energy of God’s love (agape) and brotherly love (philadelphia)³ will cause assemblies that hold objective truth in a cold or clinical way to wither over time. Sadly, we have all seen examples of both of those imbalances.

The apostle John is occupied much with both truth and love in his gospel and epistles. He records the last hours that the Lord Jesus spent with His disciples in that upper room, where the Lord referred to Himself as “the Truth”, and then promised the “Spirit of truth” who guides into all truth. But even more of His time with them there was spent, in exhortation and prayer, to the end that they should love one another, as He had loved them, and to have in themselves the same love with which the Father loved Him.* Those eleven disciples (and some others) would form the original local expression of the body of Christ and house of God on the earth. It is the truth they taught, maintained in the love of Christ that they enjoyed in their hearts, that is still able to bring growth in the body of Christ, satisfying His heart, while we await perfection at His coming.


¹    Ephesians 4:11-16 (Darby translation).  There is no word in the Greek for either “speaking” or “holding” in this verse; rather, the word for “truth” is given in verb form.

²    T. B. Baines, “The Christian’s Friend” (1879): Edification of the Body of Christ

³    Romans 12:9-10; II Peter 1:7

*    John 15:26; 16:13-14; and see all of John 13-17.