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He Purposes A Crop

My wife and I pray together every morning for the members of our assembly and for a needy world as well as ourselves. It is a privilege the Lord has granted to us in these days, to engage with others in intercession and we are able to do so in a greater measure than ever before now that child rearing is long passed and increasing age has forced us into semi-retirement. We are learning that the things that happen to all as we go through the cycles of life may bring not only unwanted experiences but increased opportunities. For the Christian nothing is without purpose or meaning. F.W. Faber wrote:

“Ill that He blesses is our good, And unbless’d good is ill;
And all is right that
seems most wrong,
If it be His sweet will.

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The Christian and the Mosaic Law

Dating back to the early church believers have questioned their relationship to the Mosaic Law (Acts 15:1-31, Gal. 2:1-21). While Bible believing Christians would agree that the Law cannot save them, some still believe that we must follow the Ten Commandments as our rule of life for sanctification.

To fully grasp our relationship to the Law we must first understand the Law’s characteristics, origin, and purpose.

The Law’s Origin and Scope

Scripture refers to the Jewish people “as those who are of the law” (Rom. 4:16). In showing that all are sinners, the Bible includes Gentiles who have sinned without the law and Jews who have sinned in the law (Rom. 2:12-16). Speaking of Christ the Holy One, it states that He was born a Son of Abraham, born under the law (Matt. 1:1-17, Luke 3:23-38, Gal. 4:4).

This tells us that the Law was given to one nation and did not exist in the time period between Adam and Moses, though sin and death certainly did (Rom. 5:13-14). But shortly after their redemption from Egypt God gave it exclusively to Israel on Mount Sinai, its stipulations encompassing every aspect of their lives.

First, revealing God’s holiness and distance from them its terms provided a way for a sinful people to approach Him both as individuals and as a nation. The offerings and feasts provided a temporary covering for sin, opportunities to worship, and a time to remember His goodness to them.

Second it instituted their judicial law, transitioning them from slaves to a nation about to inherit its own land. It instructed them how to govern themselves, on their relationships with each other, its precepts also providing remedies for any wrongs committed.

Third, the Law was one of Israel’s many privileges (Rom. 9:4-5), that uniquely set them apart as a special nation. A separate people, they were to distinguish themselves as the nation that worshipped one God and obeyed His law (Deut. 4:8). Being God’s revelation, the Law set a higher standard for them then the Gentile nations who governed themselves by their own consciences and laws.

The Law, a Greater Revelation

In Scripture we find that with each revelation God builds on what was known before. This progressive revelation culminates in God’s complete and final revelation, the coming of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the express image of God (Heb. 1:1-3).

At Sinai the Law revealed God’s holiness and righteousness in written form (Psa. 12:6, Rom. 7:12), a greater revelation than what was known up to that time. It gave Israel a clearer picture of right and wrong, a knowledge that the nations being guided only by their conscience did not have (Rom. 2:12-14, 3:20). Though all have sinned by missing the mark, falling short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23), Israel’s sin took on the nature of transgression because they stepped over recognized boundaries, breaking known precepts and commands. Every year they faced a continual reminder of sins (Heb. 10:3) because the Law revealed sin as a transgression (Rom. 4:15; Gal. 3:19).

The Law’s Conditional Terms

Visibly demonstrating His distance, God gave the Law through the agency of angels (Acts 7:53; Heb. 2:2) with Moses mediating upon behalf of the people. A conditional agreement between two parties – God and Israel – it required a mediator (Gal. 3:19-20, Deut. 5:5).

God promised Israel that if they would follow Him with all their heart He would bless their nation with many earthly blessings. If they failed to do so, many curses would fall upon them (Deut. 28). The Law could never bring personal salvation to the Israelite. Even in the Old Testament personal salvation was always by grace through faith (Gal. 2:16, 3:1-9), both to the Jew and to individual Gentiles such as Rahab and Ruth.

Contrast this with how God appeared and spoke directly to Abraham, the Abrahamic Covenant requiring no mediator, being an unconditional promise (Gal. 3:20).

It was common in Abraham’s day to ratify a contract by having both parties walk hand in hand between divided offerings, each party promising to fulfill their end of the agreement. But in the Promise a smoking oven and burning torch went through the offering signifying God alone was responsible to fulfill it (Gen. 15:5-6, 17; Gal. 3:6-9).

The Law’s Timing

Though added 430 years after the Promise (Gal. 3:17) the Law did not retract God’s earlier guarantees to Abraham (Gal. 3:17-18, 21). Neither did it add to or enhance the Promise but instead was supplementary, a separate covenant, a parenthesis within the eternal Promise.

A clause within the Abrahamic covenant promised that through Abraham’s Seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3, 22:18; Gal. 3:16, 17, 19). Here God swore that it was through Christ, Abraham’s Seed, the whole world could be saved. The Bible says that the Law functioned only until Christ came, using the phrase “till the Seed should come,” (Gal. 3:19), affirming a new standard for the Jew when faith in Christ was revealed (Gal. 3:23, 25; John 1:17).

Paul, a Jew includes himself by using the pronoun “we” when he says “we (Israel) were kept under guard by the law,” (Gal. 3:23) and then again in verse 24 “Therefore the law was our (Israel) tutor to Christ, that we (Israel) might be justified by faith.”

Staying true to both the passage and the letter’s context Paul is expressing the thought that the Law was Israel’s custodian or guardian until Christ came (Gal. 3:19, 23-25, 4:4). Later when he’s referring to both Gentile and Jewish believers and their oneness in Christ he uses the pronoun “you” (Gal. 3:26, 28-29).

The Law’s Purpose

In Paul’s day a tutor (custodian, guardian, child-conductor), normally a slave, looked after a child’s moral and physical well-being, providing a restraining influence on the minor. He helped train the children both in their behaviour and in their studies. He did so until the child came of age becoming an adult son (Gal. 4:2). Until then the child was expected to obey his guardian, having no more rights than a servant (Gal. 4:1).

Similarly the Law functioned as a guardian of the Jewish nation. When obeyed, it had a preserving influence on them, protecting them from the immoral practices, idolatry and unrestrained behaviour of the nations around them. It helped them in their studies – their knowledge of God’s righteousness and their own sin. Preserving them was necessary because it was through them the Old Testament was revealed and kept, and it was through them the Messiah would come (Gal. 3:23). Therefore even though Israel was apostate throughout most of their history God always preserved a remnant. The coming of Christ, elsewhere referred to as the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4) is Israel’s coming of age.

Since Christ has come, the Jew is no longer under their “law guardian.” Instead upon trusting Christ they become adult sons, fully entering into the rights and privileges of sonship that God has bestowed on all believers. They have died to the Law (Rom. 7:1-6), their past relationship to the law having ended. Though they were never under the Law, Gentiles also faced the same condemnation for their sins, but upon believing Christ they too become adult sons. Both Gentile and Jewish believers are one in Christ.

Christ, The Law’s Theme

Yet the Law and Israel’s experiences still have spiritual value today. For it is God’s Word and all scripture is God breathed and profitable (2 Tim. 3:16).

The Holy Spirit can use any portion of scripture to lead a lost soul to salvation because Christ is the theme of God’s Word. Responding to the Jews the Lord confronted His accusers by telling them that the scriptures testified of Him (John 5:39). After His resurrection, while travelling on the Emmaus road, He expounded from the Old Testament beginning with Moses, the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:27).

Knowing this we can meditate upon Christ in the Pentateuch, seeing Him foreshadowed in the feasts, offerings and different personalities of the Law. The examples of Israel’s failures in the wilderness were written for our admonition and instruction. Appealing to our conscience, mind, and will they exhort us to learn from their example (1 Cor. 10:11). The entire Old Testament can instill patience, comforting us with hope, fortifying us with an unshakeable trust in a faithful God (Rom. 15:4).

Christ, God’s Definitive Revelation

After Calvary some significant changes occurred demonstrating that we are not under law but grace (Rom. 6:14).

First the church, a separate entity from Israel, was born at Pentecost. The Mosaic Law was given to an earthly people, a national identity whom God promised earthly blessings upon their obedience to the law. Christians are a heavenly people comprised of Jews and Gentiles, citizens of heaven, spiritually blessed by God because of our union with Christ Who both fulfilled the law and bore its curse (Eph. 1:3, 19-23).

Second there was a change in the law of priesthood. The Old Testament priesthood functioned according to the order of Aaron while Christ is now Priest according to the greater order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek (King of Righteousness) is an Old Testament type of the eternal Christ in that his genealogy is unknown. He was the Priest King of Salem (peace) who met Abraham upon his return from rescuing his nephew Lot. The fact that he blessed Abraham and received a tithe from him gave evidence that his priesthood was greater than the Levitical priesthood that would begin with Abraham’s great-grandson, Levi (Gen. 14:18-20; Heb. 7:1-17).

In the Mosaic Law one became a priest by genealogy because the priesthood was restricted to the tribe of Levi. In the church all believers are priests with the opportunity to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God (1 Pet. 2:5).

In addition to being from the tribe of Levi, the Old Testament High Priest also had to descend from Aaron. On the other hand God appointed Christ, born of the tribe of Judah, to be our great High Priest.

The Aaronic priesthood had a continual succession of priests because eventually each one died. Christ has an eternal priesthood, living forever to make intercession for us. The Law prohibited combining the offices of priest and king. But Christ is the Priest who is now appointed to someday rule the entire earth.

Third, Christ is God’s consummate and final revelation. In the past God spoke at numerous times and in many diverse ways through prophets like Moses, bringing greater understanding to Israel. Giving the Law God visibly demonstrated His transcendence over all creation, including His distance from separated sinners. But the law not only demonstrated God’s distance but also pictured the good things to come (Heb. 10:1).

With the coming of the eternal Son God Himself came to earth and spoke (Heb. 1:1-3). Equal to the Father Christ is the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person. God’s grace has brought us near to Him through Christ (John 1:17-18, 14:21-23) without diminishing His unchanging transcendence. Seeing Christ exalted above all, brings greater clarity and understanding of the High and lofty One who invites us to come boldly to His throne of grace.

While one may separate the Mosaic Law into three parts: civil, ceremonial, and moral, and because nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament, some may be tempted to believe that while the ceremonial and civil have passed the Ten Commandments are now the believer’s standard. But we must remember that when it comes to its adherence the law is an integrated seamless whole that must be fully followed (Gal. 3:10, Jam. 2:10).

Instead Christ must be our rule of life. He brings greater light for guidance, superior strength for service, and abundant power for practical holiness. We must foster our relationship with Him, abiding in Him, seeking His direction, wisdom, and power.

Measuring our spiritual health by the Law may lead some to legalism, self-reliance, and a sense of self-righteousness that hinders the Spirit’s work in their lives.

In others it may lead to despair as the Law awakens their sinful flesh, accusing and condemning them. This was Paul’s experience. He had a sense of self-righteousness before he met Christ (Php. 3:4-6). Yet trying to fulfill the Law after his conversion he experienced something new – its condemnation. Now the law accused him, awakening in him evil desires which conflicted with his new life in Christ (Rom. 7:7-25). In this he recognized his utter helplessness to please God in his own strength. God subsequently revealed to him the liberating truth that there is no condemnation for the believer and that by living a spirit-filled life, God’s righteous moral law could be fulfilled not by him but in him (Rom. 8:1-4).

The Bible states unequivocally that one does not achieve spiritual growth by following the Law (Gal. 3:1-3). Instead it exhorts the believer to live by a new law, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:2). This law exhorts us to live by the Spirit, walking with our eyes solely fixed on Christ (Gal. 5:16; Heb. 12:1-2).

The Lord promised His disciples that after His ascension the Holy Spirit would remind them of truths He taught them, introducing also new doctrine specifically for the church (1 Cor. 11:23, 1 Thess. 4:15), bringing greater clarity to the Old Testament. Christ has removed the old and brought in the new (Heb. 10:9). With Him all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17).

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Perfecting Holiness

People who are elderly believers often wonder, “Why is the Lord leaving me here? I want to go home.” Why indeed, when we are qualified for heaven at the moment of conversion (Col. 1:12). Why has he left us here, some living to old age?

“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord” (2 Cor. 7:1 NKJ).

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Editorial: Young Men Arise!

In designing the local church the Lord provided for the care and protection of the flock through elders. These men are also referred to as overseers (poorly translated in the KJV and NKJV as bishops) or shepherds. Overseers, elders and shepherds refer to the same person but each word emphasizes a different aspect of his work.

Elders are part of a mature fellowship of believers and was an important part of the establishing of local churches in apostolic times.1 We take this New Testament example to be our binding authority in the present day and make every effort to copy this.

It is important to notice that elders were always in a plurality in the New Testament. Wm. Hoste writes: ‘In apostolic times one church had several bishops. In Christendom one bishop has several Churches.’2 This can be substantiated by noticing the plural reference every time elders are mentioned in the New Testament.

The plurality of overseers has proven to be a blessing to the local church. The variety of age, temperament, personality, maturity and experience combine to give the flock a rich resource in the function of shepherding.  The shared responsibility enables men to continue to function year after year and avoid the mental, emotional and spiritual exhaustion that may overtake one man responsible for everything.

The flock is not at risk when one elder is no longer able to carry out his work as others are already in place. There is safety and security in a ‘multitude of counsellors’ (Pro. 11:14). “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” (Pro. 15:22). “Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellors they are established.” (Pro. 24:6). “For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counsellors there is safety.”

Today however we notice that in many assemblies few seem willing to rise to challenge of oversight work.  The reasons for this are not easy to identify but some of these might be the explanation.

It could be that some, particularly younger men, feel inadequate or unqualified for the task at hand. The qualifications of oversight are not light. A review of those qualifications given in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are enough to set any man back.  No serious minded candidate for shepherd work would easily rate himself as meeting the qualifications. But those qualifications, while a necessity, were not given to potential elders to assess themselves, but to others who would identify elders. No man doing oversight work that I ever met boldly claims himself to be qualified, he leaves that for others to assess.

Perhaps another reason some are not willing to rise to the occasion of elder work is a feeling of not having sufficient time to do the work. It is a good sign when a young man thinking of oversight work has a sober assessment of the fact that it will take time and work. In the present time in Western economies the working world places big demands on working men. The technology that promises saving of time and labour seems to be running us more and more. The work day seems to be operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with constant work contact. A young man considering oversight work has to make some hard decisions in perhaps foregoing big opportunities in business or career. This is not an easy decision to make and limiting one’s time in earning income is not as simple as working less hours. But accepting big responsibilities, promotions and advancements may have to be curtailed if God’s people are going to be cared for. To gain in this world and to lose out on God’s calling is the height of folly.

It is possible that in some cases assemblies have suffered with a dysfunctional group of elders. This may prevent a young man from joining such a group. In such cases the potential shepherd must be in prayer and seek the counsel of wiser believers. It may be the assembly needs some additional shepherds to correct the dysfunctional nature of the present oversight.  It will not be easy, but it may be necessary to endure some difficulties until things can be put right.

I have always tried to point out to candidates for oversight work that elders are made by the Holy Spirit. (Acts 20:28) “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”  In other words, if God has made a man an elder, he really has no choice in the matter. It is not a question of deciding whether I want to be an elder, it is a question of am I going to be obedient to the call of God upon my life. This making of shepherds by the Holy Spirit is as significant as God calling a man or women to full time missionary or other service.

Young men, arise!

Endnotes

1 Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5

2 Wm. Hoste, Bishops, Priests and Deacons, John Ritchie Limited, pg. 29

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What We Ought To Do

 

If I had entitled this article “What I ought to do” you might have thought, “If he knows what he ought to do why doesn’t he quit talking about it and just do it?” If I had written “you” instead, some might have decided to bypass this article altogether. But the title reads “we” because both of us need to pay attention to what the Holy Spirit says about our privileges and responsibilities. There are things we should be doing, or doing with greater zeal. So before you turn away, think of this article as a reminder to us both. Peter’s second letter had that character. He was deeply concerned that we not only gain access to the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour, but that we have an abundant entrance into it. For that reason he says, “I will always be ready to remind you of these things even though you already know them… to stir you up by way of reminder… (that) you may be able to call these things to mind… stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder”, (2 Pet. 1:12-15; 3:1).

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Christian Fellowship – Words that Promote Fellowship

Then they that feared the Lord spoke often to one another; and the Lord hearkened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name” (Malachi 3:16)

Over four hundred years later the risen Christ asked two of His followers, “What manner of communications are these that you have?” (Luke 24:17). It is a question we sometimes need to ask ourselves. By offering hospitality, providing physical assistance and sharing financially, we show fellowship with other believers. Such things give evidence of the genuineness of our love and care. However it is only how we speak when with them that shows whether we know the joy to be found in conversational fellowship. That is the subject of this article.

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Some Thoughts on Congregational Singing

Some time ago I was asked to write an article about singing in the church. Before I do, let me quickly give you some personal background, so you will know from what perspective I am writing. I became Christian at age 19, and for the first 20 years after my salvation attended a lively non-denominational church, where I also functioned as piano/bass player, choir director, and where at times I would lead congregational singing. Most songs we sang were contemporary choruses, many of which contained much scripture. From there my family moved on to a more traditional church, where the majority of the songs consisted of hymns, many written during the 18th and 19thcenturies. Here I also directed a choir, and have been frequently involved in worship and song-leading.

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Consciences in Conflict

The Disney classic “Pinocchio” popularized the saying “Let your conscience be your guide.” In a previous article we cautioned against individuals thinking that because they have peace about acting in a certain way, it is something of which God approves. We saw that, in the Scriptures, the charge to “let the peace of God rule in your hearts” is addressed to a group and not just to one person. That begs a question: What then is the value of an individual’s conscience?

Conscience is the inner voice that approves or disapproves of what you have done or are thinking of doing; it is more like a judge than a guide. The verdicts it hands down can be accurate or misleading depending on how long ago it was calibrated or tuned.

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Misplaced Loves – 2 Timothy 3:1-5

Do we really love like we should? What and how we love tells what kind of people we are. According to our text, one of the signs of the last times is the manifestation of misplaced love. God created us with a capacity to know and love Him. That was soon perverted in Eden, as Genesis 3 and 4 record, and has only gotten worse in the ensuing ages. This sinful disposition, like a cancer, cannot become something good.

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The Soul’s Warning System – Our Conscience: Romans 2:14-15

Large commercial aircraft have what is known as “A ground proximity warning system” (GPWS) that warns the pilot the plane is getting near the ground or mountains. In the late 1980’s a Colombian based airline (Avianca) was flying through the night in Spain. Suddenly a computerized voice said “pull up, pull up.” The pilot apparently ignored the warning. So a second time the voice said“pull up.”Again the pilot ignored the warning and soon after the plane crashed into the hillside killing the pilot, co-pilot, all the crew and all the passengers. The GPWS had warned of danger.

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