The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘Paul the apostle

When did you last weep?

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In this further guest post by my father, Austin Walker, he adds to a previous article some further reflections on the church’s response to the present crisis.

In my first article I outlined some of the biblical reasons why I believe we are facing the present crisis. I suggested that the true church of Christ should take the lead in seeking the face of God, confessing our sins and the sins of our nation, pleading with him for his great mercies’ sake. In so doing the church would be following the noble examples of men like Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. This second article is intended as a sequel. I would like to develop the response of the church further by considering in particular the examples of the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul.

If you have followed the details of the crisis on the internet over the past few months you will have read some tragic and harrowing accounts of those who have died as a result of Covid-19. Sometimes husbands and wives have died within days of each other. Members of the same family have died in similar circumstances. Occasionally younger people and even children have been cut down, though many have been spared. In some care homes across our nation many elderly people have died. Early on in the crisis we heard of nurses and doctors who were reduced to tears because their patients had died without any relatives being present at their bedside. The disease has not discriminated. We know of Christians who have died as well as those who adhere to different religions or none. In the UK some 35,000 are known have died as a result of Covid-19. Unnumbered tears of sorrow have been shed by the families, relatives and friends of those who have died. Such grief has been compounded by the restrictions on numbers attending funerals.

Of course many people die every day from a wide range of diseases or as a result of accidents or for some other reasons. Public attention is not normally drawn to these ‘ordinary’ statistics in the way that it has with regard to deaths associated with Covid-19. These are extraordinary days. While it is true that many more have survived the disease than have died , we cannot escape the distress and sorrow that accompanies the death of loved ones. There is no escaping the fact that this is a very real disease, often bringing long-term damage even when it does not fatal, that has brought intense grief in its wake.

Many people regard death simply as an inevitable and natural process. The Bible sees it with a different pair of eyes. The book of Job refers to death as the “king of terrors” (Jb 18.14). There are some unbelievers who say they are not afraid to die. That sounds bold, but it is folly born of unbelief. Death is not a natural process. Death is an unwelcome invader, an evil that brings to everyone pain, grief and sorrow. It entered into the world in which we live as a result of the sin of one man, Adam: “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom 5.12). Furthermore, we read that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6.23). Death brings us face to face with our Judge: “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb 10.27). Confronted by death we are powerless and exposed to God’s judgment.

Death is not only the inevitable outcome of sin but primarily divine punishment for sin. Beyond death there is God’s judgment of condemnation and hell unless we have been cleansed and forgiven for our sins. The Lord Jesus several times warned of being “cast out into outer darkness” where there will be such intense sorrow—“weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt 8.12; 13.42; 22.13; 24.51; 25.30). Hell is real, the place of “everlasting punishment” (Mt 25.46), utterly devoid of any of God’s blessings which every human enjoys in this life.

The Bible has the answer to the dilemma caused by death and the reality of divine condemnation. There is a way of escaping judgment and the wrath of a just God. The gospel of Jesus Christ, who died and rose from the dead, is our only hope, as 1 Corinthians 15 makes plain. He died for our sins and—having been raised from the dead—is the first fruits of those who died believing in him. “Since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead” (1Cor 15.21). “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2Cor 5.21). “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’)” (Gal 3.13).

Our present concern is with our reaction to the deaths caused by the current pandemic which was identified in the previous article as a temporal judgment of God, justly deserved by our nation. Furthermore, it serves as a divine warning about the final judgment. If we understand our Bibles correctly there is a far deeper sorrow than death from Covid-19 or any other disease. Disease is one of the tragic consequences arising from the entrance of sin into the world. This pandemic brings us face to face with death which is the result of sin and ends in condemnation and everlasting punishment if we remain in unbelief.

The reality of death and all that is involved in death plunged our Lord Jesus Christ into tears. John 11.33-38 is a remarkable unveiling of the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ as he is confronted with the death of his friend Lazarus and the grief of Lazarus’ two sisters, Mary and Martha. Twice we read that Jesus groaned (verses 33 and 38), once that he was troubled (verse 33), and once that he wept (verse 35). Christ’s tears were not shed for Lazarus—he was about to raise him from the dead. The spirit of the Lord Jesus was reacting to the reality of death with a mixture of righteous anger and intense grief. Death was the object of his anger. He was also very aware of the one behind death, namely the devil, who has “the power of death” (Heb 2.14). Christ did not react with a cold and somewhat distant concern but rather, as B. B. Warfield once said, “with flaming wrath” against the foe. Yet at the same time his reaction showed that he had entered into our lot and identified himself with our deepest griefs and sorrows, taking to himself all the miseries associated with sin. The devastating evidence of a fallen world drew out of his heart both anger and compassion.

Similarly, in Luke’s Gospel, we read how he reacted as he drew near to Jerusalem before his death. “He saw the city and wept over it” (Lk 19.41). He wept over their ignorance, their spiritual blindness, and unbelief. They did not know “the things that make for your peace,” nor did they “know the time of their visitation” (Lk 19.42, 44). On a previous occasion he had cried out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” a cry pregnant with pathos and pity (Lk 13.34-35). He knew what would happen in the future when divine judgment fell on Jerusalem. The Romans came and destroyed both the temple and the city. He wept in compassionate pity in the light of their persistent wicked unbelief and the inevitable heavy judgment to come.

Surely, then, we who profess to be the true church of Jesus Christ should be imitating our Saviour by weeping over the present predicament of our nation in its unbelief and apparent determination to continue flouting the law of God? We live in the same fallen world that Christ entered. It is all too easy for us to react to what we continually see before our eyes by saying it is what our nation deserves. We can react with holy indignation and display little or no grief and shed no tears. The result will be a hardening of our hearts and the growth of a self-righteousness that will blossom into an ugly pride. On the other hand, we can descend into sentimentality by displaying only sympathy. The truth is we live in tension while we are here. On the one hand there must be righteous indignation, but it must be joined with grief, compassion and Christlike tears. He alone is the pattern for our response to this present crisis and if there is to be revival in the church this certainly ought to be one of the things that must characterise the church. Have we become so dulled and adopted such an ungodly apathy and indifference that our hearts no longer feel any real compassion and our eyes shed no tears.

The apostle Paul followed the example set by his Redeemer. He spoke of having “great sorrow and continual grief in my heart,” such that, were it possible, he was willing to be counted accursed by God and devoted to destruction, if only his Jewish brethren might be saved (Rom 9.2-3, 10.1). Such a spirit was proof of a deep, fervent, Christlike love, an anguish of heart that was not only deep but continual. The language he used in Romans 9.1 is striking: “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit.” It not only displays the profound extent of his feelings, and his great love, but also tells us what motivated and constrained his response to Jewish unbelief. It would be reasonable to say that Paul knew what it was to weep Christlike tears over his Jewish brethren. It was patterned after the love of Christ, who was made a curse for us (Gal 3.13).

How then should we respond to the present crisis? With righteous indignation mingled with compassion and tears. Paul’s language in Romans 9.1-3 is the language of a Christian. If we harden our hearts and crush our response, we will cultivate a spirit that is unconcerned about those who are perishing. Such a spirit should leave us wondering if we are Christians at all. Neither should we despair in unbelief, concluding that our God will not show mercy, or—worse—should not show mercy. That is too much like Jonah.

Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Paul and Christ show us the way to respond to what we are seeing in our nation. When we set our face towards the Lord God to make our requests by prayer and supplications it is not to be with a tepid spirit that we plead his great mercies, but with a fervent and full heart beseeching him to hear, to forgive, to listen and to act. It is difficult to beseech God in that manner without our eyes shedding tears.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 21 May 2020 at 09:11

The preacher’s anticipation

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St Paul expected his hearers to be moved. He so believed in his preaching that he knew that it was “the power of God unto salvation” [Rom. 1:16]. This expectation is a very real part of the presentation of the Gospel. It is a form of faith. A mere preaching which is not accompanied by the expectation of faith, is not a true preaching of the Gospel, because faith is a part of the Gospel. Simply to scatter the seed, with a sort of vague hope that some of it may come up somewhere, is not preaching the gospel. It is indeed a misrepresentation of the gospel. To preach the Gospel requires that the preacher should believe that he is sent to those whom he is addressing at the moment, because God has among them those whom He is at the moment calling: it requires that the speaker should expect a response.

Roland Allen, Missionary Methods—St. Paul’s or Ours? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962), 74.

HT: Justin Taylor.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 23 June 2012 at 12:20

Paul the planter

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Kevin DeYoung discusses (using Eckhard Schnabel) whether or not the apostle Paul had a church-planting strategy that focused on cities, and concludes that this is a misguided oversimplification. Here is his helpful conclusion:

So where should we go to plant churches? The short answer is: everywhere. But beyond that we should simply look at where a church is needed and where we have an opportunity to go. This will lead God’s people to many big, important cities. And to many other smaller “less important” towns and regions God cares about just as much.

Read it all.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 14 April 2012 at 16:47

The Taylor test

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Writing on the contention between the two apostles, Paul and Peter, and its resolution, William Taylor makes the following comment:

It may seem a paradox to say it, but there are few things which test a man’s real Christianity more than reproof for that which is actually blameworthy. It is comparatively easy to guard against giving offence; but it is exceeding hard to keep from taking offence in such circumstances, and to say with the Psalmist, “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head.” We all assent to Solomon’s proverb, “Open rebuke is better than secret love;” but when the rebuke comes most of us, on the whole, would prefer the love; and too frequently we are disposed to resent the faithfulness of the brother who would hint, even in the most delicate manner, that we have been in the wrong. We cry out against the modern dogma of papal infallibility, but we have all too much belief in that of our own infallibility; for our tempers are roused, and our hearts are estranged by any exposure of our error or inconsistency. How many personal alienations and ecclesiastical schisms might have been prevented, if there had been on the one side the honest frankness of Paul, and on the other the manly meekness of Peter as these come out in this transaction! (Paul the Missionary, 175-176)

Do you pass the Taylor test?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 14 September 2011 at 08:37

God’s gospel gift

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Cast your mind back into the depths of the allegedly-festive season. For many, it would be a time for the giving of gifts. Typically, with the person in mind for whom you desire a gift, you set out to find something that fits the template. Indeed, sitting in the Christmas carnage and tracing back from the gift to the perceived needs, desires or expectations of the intended recipient can be a little disconcerting. The socks and chutney imply a frozen-toed cheese eater; the DIY [home improvement] manual and the alarm clock hint at someone both incompetent and lazy; the sweater and make up suggest someone cold and ugly to boot. There is a lot to get wrong in such mind games: our foolishness, sensitivity (or utter lack of it) and ignorance might leave us muddled and misguided. Furthermore, if there is no appropriate and appreciated match between what is given and the one to whom it is given, those gifts lie quickly forgotten and largely neglected, unworn, uneaten, unused.

But what if a gifted, wise and insightful physician who knew us accurately and intimately sent to us a box of pills with instructions to begin a life-saving course of medication immediately? Might you not be entitled to presume that he had correctly diagnosed a deadly condition and has kindly provided the cure? In such an instance, you might accurately match the recipient and the gift, connecting the condition and circumstances of the former with the nature of the latter. And would you not be relying on it still? Would not that gift remain unspeakably precious to you?

So it is with God’s gospel gift: an unbreakable, inexhaustible, unforgettable, incalculably precious saving gift. The eternal God was neither ignorant nor whimsical, was not foolish or misguided, in sending his Son to save men. Here we have a gift precisely fitted and perfectly suited to the character, circumstances and condition of fallen mankind, calling forth perpetual reliance and overwhelming thankfulness. In Romans 5.6-11 the apostle Paul makes some of the connections between the recipients and the gift, describing sinful men in the light of the saving Christ:

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

Firstly, Paul says that we are powerless. We are utterly without strength (Rom 5.6). The word Paul employs here is used in Matthew 25.31-46, Luke 10.9 and Acts 5.15-16 of those helplessly sick; in Acts 4.9 it describes the impotence of a man who was lame; in 1 Corinthians 12.22 it speaks of weakness and feebleness. It is a word describing comprehensive helplessness, and in Romans 5.6 it is used of our natural state, having no power in ourselves to do good, able neither to resist sin nor to pursue righteousness. We had no strength to restore our relationship with God nor to maintain one if it could be restored. Paul pictures a man utterly lacking in spiritual vitality, without any of the functions of life: it is a sketch of entire, ongoing, sinful incapacity, of a man beyond human help.

It was to men in such a state as this that Christ was given. We need someone who is truly strong, able not only to act on his own behalf but on behalf of others also, not only to secure good for himself but for others too. According to Isaiah, Jesus is just such a mighty Deliverer: “He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might he increases strength” (Is 40.29).

Secondly, we are by nature ungodly. Paul uses the same word in Romans 4.5. He means one who is thoroughly lost, wicked, having nothing to offer God. To be such a person means that we can never take God’s favour for granted because we positively fail to deserve any good; we have no entitlement to blessing. Romans 5.6 tells us that ungodly people needed someone to die for them: we required a ransom to be paid, someone to come at the proper time, the appointed hour, to take our place. The seventh verse makes plain that this is, by any account, the rarest of gifts. How much more when it is to men considered not as good and righteous but as ungodly that God sent the Son of his love? It was to men lost entirely and wicked throughout that Jesus came to do nothing less than die: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mk 10.45).

Again, we are sinners. We are those who miss the mark at which we aim, who fall short of our target. It is the tragedy of fallen men that we not only fall short of the target which we truly desire and earnestly pursue – our own happiness – but that we also fall short of that at which we should aim: the glory and honour of God, which we rarely consider and usually despise. In short, we are both personally wretched and morally polluted. As such, there is nothing in us to evoke blessing but much to demand cursing. It is a condition that leaves us entirely exposed to the divine displeasure and righteous judgment.

Paul would have us understand that to secure the life of sinners by any gift would be unspeakable love, the very pinnacle of grace, and such love and grace are displayed in a God who gives nothing less than his beloved Son for us, and in a Christ who willingly lays down his life to secure blessing for such men.

Fourthly, we are guilty. This is the clear implication of the language of sin and of justification (Rom 5.8-9). We need to be justified, to be declared righteous in the sight of a holy God. As sinners, we have deserved nothing but condemnation, and we abide under wrath. We have no righteousness of our own to plead, no goodness to parade. Justice demands vengeance, and what can provide satisfaction apart from fearful and just judgments falling upon the head of the guilty sinner? Where can such a sinner find a putting away of sin and a grant of righteousness, so propitiating the wrath of an offended God? How can we come to have that happy testimony, “You have forgiven the iniquity of your people; you have covered all their sin. You have taken away all your wrath; you have turned from the fierceness of your anger” (Ps 85.2-3)?

It requires blood. We are justified by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, who gave his life, so paying the debt, removing the guilt, providing a credit that was acceptable in saving transaction with a holy God.

Furthermore, we are enemies. Sin becomes habitual, habitual rebellion produces a deepening aversion to the Righteous One, that aversion develops into a settled enmity, and enmity breaks out into open hostility. Every sinner is on that way of rooted adversity to God in some form and degree, and is therefore subject to his wrath. We were rebelliously opposed to God and God was fearfully opposed to us. We were both antagonistic toward him and alienated from him, being without God and without hope in the world. Our relationship to God by nature is not one of neutrality, but of war. Men rage impotently against God and God sets himself implacably against all iniquity. Where, then, can a man find peace with God? Where is God reconciled, enmity removed, harmony established, justice vindicated, and holiness honoured?

God himself supplies the means. The offended God is himself the one who addresses the grounds of separation and provides for reconciliation. It is and must be a fruit of astonishing love, profound pity, and incalculable grace to design and execute such a plan, but what again almost beggars belief is that this reconciliation required nothing less than the giving of God’s own beloved Son. It was not accomplished at any lesser price.

But there is more still. For supposing that all this is carried out on our behalf – the powerless find a champion, the ungodly find a sacrifice, sinners find a saving life, the guilty find a righteousness, enemies find a reconciliation.  It leaves us still and always utterly dependent. Saved men need saving. This does not for one instant mean that there is something lacking in the life and death of Jesus that yet remains to be made up, but rather speaks of our continual need for his grace and strength, our perpetual reliance upon him, finding all our security for the present and future in him alone. Paul speaks of our being saved from wrath through him, by his life (Rom 5.9-10). Our abiding union with our crucified but risen Redeemer ensures that we remain protected to the end and into eternity. We are reconciled by his death and saved by his life, having nothing to fear in the day of wrath, for he both secures our standing by his acceptance with God and is living to intercede for us. He is our Good Shepherd, guiding his sheep safely to the eternal fold; our Great Priest who stands before God on our behalf; he is securing and will secure our final happiness.

Thus we have in these verses two portraits, intimately connected to each other, reflective of each other in the way that a negative reflects the original. Here is the light of Christ and the corresponding distorted shadow cast by sinful man. The portrait of ourselves is unflatteringly honest, depicting us ruined and lost. The portrait of the Lord Jesus shows him as the gift of God, piercingly beautiful, precisely fitted and perfectly suited to the character, condition and circumstances of those he came to save. He is displayed as One mighty to deliver, by his life, death and resurrection supplying the reconciling righteousness and the cleansing blood that we could never obtain for ourselves, and this he provided by taking our place and dying on our behalf.

Do we accept the testimony of the gospel gift of Jesus Christ about our character, condition and circumstances? It may not be flattering, but it is painfully accurate. Look at the portrait: do you not see your own face staring back at you? Do you find your own wretchedness and neediness written in these things? God was not ignorant or whimsical, not foolish or mistaken when he sent his Son for sinners. The gift was given because the state of the intended recipients demanded nothing less.

Do you accept the gift? It is one thing to acknowledge the need, but another to accept the gift? Salvation is entirely from without. Martin Luther used to speak of the natural man as turned in upon himself. Grace shows the emptiness within, and makes us lift our eyes outward and upward to where we find our only help. Let us be honest: if the portrait of sinful man is a portrait of my own soul, where will I find salvation in myself? If I am powerless, ungodly, sinning, guilty and opposed to God, what will I offer to secure my salvation? There is nothing else left but to look elsewhere. Helpless sinners need a mighty Helper if they are to be delivered from sin and death and hell. God offers the priceless gift of his incarnate Son, and nothing more is required than to cast one’s soul for time and for eternity upon him, to accept the gospel gift as the one and sole answer to the damnable misery of separation from God.

Let us note here – especially those of us who preach – that any message that offers hope but fails to take account of these particular needs and the gift given to address them is a false gospel. To paint the soul of sinners in brighter colours than these does not shut people up to the only remedy, but gives man a falsely elevated view of his own capacity and a correspondingly low view of the saving excellence of the Lord Christ. To offer any alternative remedy is to offer a placebo that, at best, will float men gently and peacefully into the Pit. However, God’s gospel gift of his gracious and glorious Son delivers men from sin and death and hell when it is received with repentant faith.

Should we not, then, humbly receive, gratefully remember and ardently rejoice in such a gift? Only love and mercy would offer such an unparallelable kindness to people such as us; only a fool would reject him; only a gross ingrate could possibly forget the greatest of all possible gifts; only a hard heart would fail to rejoice in the Giver and his glorious Gift. This is where Paul brings us and leaves us: “we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Rom 5.11). The focus is not on ourselves, not even so much on what we receive in Christ, but on the Christ whom we receive by faith, and the God who sent him to be received. Paul leaves us exulting in God in Christ. We boast not in ourselves, but in the saving God through whom the utterly unworthy receive reconciliation, made secure for life and in death and through eternity by his Son – Jesus the Ransomer, God’s gospel gift.

This article first appeared at Reformation21.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 19 January 2011 at 12:11

Paul’s gospel

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Kevin DeYoung at TGC looks over a volume by Steven Westerholm called Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics to give some helpful insights into the relationship between the circumstances in which Paul was preaching the gospel and the essential nature of the gospel which he preached:

So yes, justification by faith resulted in the “erasing of ethnic boundaries.” But Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley and every faithful gospel preacher before and after them have also been right to preach the good news of “grace abounding to sinners.” This is the heartbeat, the tap root, and basic point of justification by faith. And if this happens to be “Lutheran” that’s ok, because it happens to be biblical too.

Read it all.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 13 January 2011 at 12:48

A disciple’s disposition

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If you were to choose one phrase to describe yourself, what would it be? One might argue that, for the apostle Paul, it would be this: “a bondservant of Jesus Christ.” He uses it repeatedly to describe his privileged status as a disciple of Jesus, bound to exclusive, absolute, willing obedience. But there was a time when he would have been the last person on earth to embrace and employ such a title. What made “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man” adopt the posture of Christ’s bondservant?

The change occured just outside Damascus. Paul was travelling to the city intent upon doing violence to the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Suddenly a light from heaven shone around him and he fell to the ground. Who knows what went through his mind at that moment? What did he expect? No doubt the persecutor believed that he was doing the will of God; perhaps he even anticipated some divine commendation. Instead a voice spoke to the man lying on the earth: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” What a shudder must have gone through the heart of that proud man. There is already a new humility in his confused question: “Who are you, Lord?” Then these words of staggering reality give the crushing answer: “I am Jesus.” We might wonder how Paul survived the shock: that imposter, the cursed Nazarene, is the Lord of glory. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” He had known and perhaps been bested by Stephen, heard his pointed and powerful sermon and seen his face at his death; he had listened to the believing confessions of tortured followers of the Way; he had studied endlessly the testimonies of the Hebrew Scriptures, his treasured scrolls. And now he is confronted and cast down by the very Messiah that he has been anticipating, the very Messiah that he has been persecuting.

No wonder he was “trembling and astonished.” Stripped of all self-righteousness, all self-confidence, his entire world up-ended by this striking moment of divine revelation, he bows his head and asks a question: “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

That question gives us an insight into a humbled heart; it shows us a disciple’s disposition. Certainly there is still much pondering and praying for Paul over the coming hours, but this phrase opens a door by which we can gaze into a bondservant’s soul. Here is the subordination of one’s own will to the will of another. Here is a posture of voluntary humility and ready obedience.

Paul’s response is personal. He is face to face with Christ, and there is no thought of anyone else. His relationship to this Jesus is all that now matters. He is concerned not about what he himself would like to do, what others would have him do, or what others should themselves do. “What do you, Christ Jesus, want me, Saul of Tarsus, to do?” Every other allegiance, legitimate or otherwise, assumes its relative and proper obscurity next to the claims of Christ.

His response is immediate. This may be the most complete and radical change of plan in the history of the world. What the Christ speaks will be the rule of his life from this moment. No other plans or purposes will come into the equation, and nothing will be put off to a more convenient occasion. The risen Lord has declared himself, and instantly this man asks only what is required of him. All Paul’s hopes, schemes and dreams – short, middle and long term – are instantly abandoned, and all he is and has are put at the immediate disposal of the Lord Christ.

His response is unconditional. Paul has no idea what Jesus of Nazareth will ask of him. Who can say what his command will demand? But that is not the issue. The possible answers do not prevent or inhibit the question. The sense of his question implies this: “Anything and everything that you might require I stand ready to give.” This is not some strutting boast, but an unavoidable declaration in the light of who it is that stands before Paul.

His response is voluntary. It is a conscious and willing response. This is a deliberate act of consecration, an offering up of himself with a ready heart. There is no coercion, only felt obligation. This is not an accidental attitude, but a purposeful seeking out of the will of Christ in order to do it.

And so his response is fundamentally active. There is an immediate awareness that this Messiah will require and be entitled to a life lived to the praise of his glory, a life in which everything is given not anaemically but vigorously, not dragged out under duress but poured out exultantly. The living follows the birthing, the doing follows the saving.

And what is the source of this outlook? From where does this disciple’s disposition arise?

It is a believing response to Jesus of Nazareth, the risen Lord and God’s Christ: “I am Jesus.” It is the unparalleled and unparellelable glory of his unalloyed divinity and glorious humanity that has captured Paul’s heart. It is Jesus as the promised Prophet, Priest and King; the Son of David; the one Mediator between God and man; the Redeemer of God’s elect; the Hope of Israel; the Light of nations; the Dayspring from on high; the Lord of lords and King of kings. Paul has opposed him with every fibre of his being, and he has responded with sovereign mercy. When Paul later writes that “he loved me and gave himself for me” he is speaking of this Jesus whom he had persecuted. When the Father sought a Ransomer, a voice like many waters answered, “I will go.” Where angels and men were helpless, the Lord of men and angels gave himself to save his people from their sins. He died for those who were still his enemies. He died for Saul of Tarsus. He died for us.

And the man who sees – even faintly – the person and the work of this Jesus, whom God has made both Lord and Christ, asks this: “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

It is a believing sight of Jesus Christ that liberates us from anaemic, self-satisfied, shallow, take-it-or-leave-it religion. Do not say that if only you could see him as Paul saw him, you would have a different attitude. His glory shines on every page of your Bible, and you lack nothing to enable you to truly perceive him. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is no less glorious and no less gracious than he was on the day when he appeared to Paul. The Scriptures sing of his majesty and speak of his excellence, painting him in all the glorious colours that God has intended us to see in the portrait of his Son, lit up with the shining light of the Holy Spirit. If we have been given eyes to see and hearts to believe, all that is required is that we love greatly as those greatly forgiven by our great God and Saviour, and live accordingly.

What does it mean? It is not a call to some extravagant but ultimately empty gesture allegedly made for the sake of the kingdom, or some energetic but perhaps pointless demonstration of wrong-headed zeal. It may or may not demand a radical change of direction. It may or may not be a call to a sacrifice of which you have not before dreamed.

But – whatever else it requires – it will demand a change of attitude and call you to a different spirit. It means that you begin to ask not what you must do for Christ, but what you can do. It means a readiness to serve God wherever and whenever he may call us, whether that is where we are now or somewhere else where he would have us to be. It means that we bow the knee before Jesus, God’s Lord and Christ, and make a personal, immediate, unconditional, voluntary and active response, asking, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” It means being ready to follow him, whatever the answer, and ready to serve him, whatever the cost. That is a disciple’s disposition.

This article first appeared at Reformation21.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 10 December 2010 at 08:37

Playing to the gallery (or, Anselm’s chance)

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Anselm Mulliner is a character in one of P. G. Wodehouse’s short stories, entitled “Anselm Gets His Chance,” available in the collection Eggs, Beans and Crumpets, for those interested. Anselm is curate of the parish of Rising Mattock in Hampshire, a man who “when he was not dreaming fondly of Myrtle Jellaby . . . [was] chafing at his vicar’s high-handed selfishness in always hogging the evening sermon from late in April till well on in September” (107).

Without going into the details, Anselm’s superior, a certain Rev. Sidney Gooch, finds himself unable to preach due to the possession of a magnificent black eye, obtained in a scuffle with a burglar purloining a book of stamps. Anselm must preach at evensong, and the chance must be seized:

In Anselm’s deportment and behaviour on the following morning there was nothing to indicate that his soul was a maelstrom of seething emotions. Most curates who find themselves unexpectedly allowed to preach on Sunday evening in the summer time are like dogs let off the chain. They leap. They bound. They sing snatches of the more rollicking psalms. They rush about saying ‘Good morning, good morning,’ to everybody and patting children on the head. Not so Anselm. He knew that only by conserving his nervous energies would he be able to give of his best when the great moment came.

To those of the congregation who were still awake in the latter stages of the service his sermon at Matins seemed dull and colourless. And so it was. He had no intention of frittering away eloquence on a morning sermon. He deliberately held himself back, concentrating every fibre of his being on the address which he was to deliver in the evening.

He had had it in him for months. Every curate throughout the English countryside keeps tucked away among his effects a special sermon designed to prevent him being caught short, if suddenly called upon to preach at evensong. And all through the afternoon he remained closeted in his room, working upon it. He pruned. He polished. He searched the Thesaurus for the telling adjective. By the time the church bells began to ring out over the fields and spinneys of Rising Mattock in the quiet gloaming, his masterpiece was perfected to the last comma.

Feeling more like a volcano than a curate, Anselm Mulliner pinned together the sheets of manuscript and set forth.

The conditions could not have been happier. By the end of the pre-sermon hymn the twilight was far advanced, and through the door of the little church there poured the scent of trees and flowers. All was still, save for the distant tinkling of sheep bells and the drowsy calling of rooks among the elms. With quiet confidence Anselm mounted the pulpit steps. He had been sucking throat pastilles all day and saying ‘Mi-mi’ to himself in an undertone throughout the service, and he knew he would be in good voice.

For an instant he paused and gazed about him. He was rejoiced to see that he was playing to absolute capacity. Every pew was full. There, in the squire’s high-backed stall, was Sir Leopold Jellaby, O.B.E., with Myrtle at his side. There, among the choir, looking indescribably foul in a surplice, sat Joe Beamish. There, in their respective places, were the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker and all the others who made up the personnel of the congregation. With a little sigh of rapture, Anselm cleared his throat and gave out the simple text of Brotherly Love.

I have been privileged (said Mr Mulliner) to read the script of this sermon of Anselm’s, and it must, I can see, have been extremely powerful. Even in manuscript form, without the added attraction of the young man’s beautifully modulated tenor voice, one can clearly see its magic.

Beginning with a thoughtful excursus on Brotherly Love among the Hivites and the Hittites, it came down through the Early Britons, the Middle Ages and the spacious days of Queen Elizabeth to these modern times of ours, and it was here that Anselm Mulliner really let himself go. It was at this point, if one may employ the phrase, that he – in the best and most reverent spirit of the words – reached for the accelerator and stepped on it.

Earnestly, in accents throbbing with emotion, he spoke of our duty to one another; of the task that lies clear before all of us to make this a better and sweeter world for our fellows; of the joy that awaits those who give no thought to self but strain every nerve to do the square thing by one and all. And with each golden phrase he held his audience in an ever-tightening grip. Tradesmen who had been nodding somnolently woke up and sat with parted lips. Women dabbed at their eyes with handkerchiefs. Choir-boys who had been sucking acid drops swallowed them remorsefully and stopped shuffling their feet.

Even at a morning service, such a sermon would have been a smash hit. Delivered in the gloaming, with all its adventitious aids to success, it was a riot.

It was not immediately after the conclusion of the proceedings that Anselm was able to tear himself away from the crowd of admirers that surged around him in the vestry. There were churchwardens who wanted to shake his hand, other churchwardens who insisted on smacking him on the back. One even asked for his autograph. But eventually he laughingly shook himself free and made his way back to the vicarage. And scarcely had he passed through the garden gate when something shot out at him from the scented darkness, and he found Myrtle Jellaby in his arms.

‘Anselm!’ she cried. ‘My wonder-man! However did you do it? I never heard such a sermon in my life!’

‘It got across, I think?’ said Anselm modestly.

‘It was terrific. Golly! When you admonish a congregation, it stays admonished. How you think of all these things beats me.’

‘Oh, they come to one.’ (117-120)

Compare Paul:

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ. (Gal 1.6-10)

Or again:

And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. . . . Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (1Cor 2.1-5, 12-13)

So, do you keep a little stash of ‘archangel sermons’ to preach at that church or that conference, should you ever be invited – the real doozies that you can slide out if ever they are required? Do you chafe that you never really get your chance to pour the sauce, or that someone else always hogs the evensong limelight? Do you ever slave over the style of your words and their delivery with a view to securing an effect upon men by means of the words and their delivery alone? Perhaps you will preach away this weekend. You might preach to five, or to five hundred. Will you prepare, deliver and expect differently in each place? To be sure, you might rise to the occasion differently, the personal and spiritual dynamics in each environment will be different, but will your spirit be different? Will you preach on brotherly love, with a stunning excursus on said virtue among the Hivites and the Hittites, to the applause of men, or will you preach a crucified Christ in your crucified style to the glory of God? Will you play to the gallery or remember the great cloud of witnesses? Will you perform for men or serve the Lord?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 29 October 2010 at 11:04

More on “A Portrait of Paul”

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For those not yet bored rigid with the topic, we continue to make progress with A Portrait of Paul (more information).

Monergism Books are now offering it, in addition to Reformation Heritage Books, Westminster Bookstore, Christian Book Distributors (CBD) and Grace Books International.  No news yet on a British co-publisher or distributor.  Perhaps a case of no prophet being accepted in his own country!

People I did not even know would read the book are now endorsing the book, which is encouraging.  Here is Conrad Mbewe‘s assessment:

When I first sensed God’s call to the preaching ministry, I did a study of the life and ministry of the apostle Paul. And, oh, what a study that was! It opened my eyes to the difference between ministry in the New Testament and what is in vogue today. Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker have now brought all those truths that I saw into this one volume. I, therefore, commend this book to all who want to take God’s call to the work of ministry seriously. For, in these pages is the heart and experience of a true minister of the new covenant.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 13 May 2010 at 09:26

“A Portrait of Paul”

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It seems that the time has come to break cover and shuffle into the foetid pool.  The book mentioned a few days ago is now available in the US for pre-publication orders from Reformation Heritage Books or Westminster Bookstore or Monergism Books or Christian Book Distributors (CBD) or Grace Books International.

Amazon.co.uk and Evangelical Press are now stocking the item.

A Portrait of Paul: Identifying a True Minister of Christ

Rob Ventura & Jeremy Walker

Blurb: What does a true pastor look like, and what constitutes a faithful ministry? How can we identify the life and labors of one called by God to serve in the church of Jesus Christ? To address these questions, Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker examine how the apostle Paul describes his pastoral relation to the people of God in Colossians 1:24–2:5. By discussing these essential attitudes, qualities, and characteristics of a faithful minister of Christ, A Portrait of Paul provides gospel ministers an example of what they should be, and demonstrates for churches the kind of pastors they will seek if they desire men after God’s own heart.

Chapters:

  1. The Joy of Paul’s Ministry
  2. The Focus of Paul’s Ministry
  3. The Hardships of Paul’s Ministry
  4. The Origin of Paul’s Ministry
  5. The Essence of Paul’s Ministry
  6. The Subject of Paul’s Ministry (sample)
  7. The Goal of Paul’s Ministry
  8. The Strength of Paul’s Ministry
  9. The Conflict of Paul’s Ministry
  10. The Warnings of Paul’s Ministry

Endorsements:

John MacArthur: The apostle Paul has always been a hero whom I look to as a model for my ministry. His unrelenting faithfulness in the worst kinds of trials is a remarkable example to every pastor and missionary. In the midst of suffering, hardship, and (in the end) the abandonment of his own friends and fellow workers, Paul remained steadfast, dynamic, and utterly devoted to Christ. This invaluable study of Paul’s life from Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker is a wonderful, powerful, soul-stirring examination of Paul’s self-sacrifice and his unfaltering service to the church. It will both motivate and encourage you, especially if you’re facing trials, opposition, or discouragement in your service for Christ.

Geoff Thomas: For the first two decades of my life as a Christian, I had an abundance of role models who seemed to enflesh for me how a minister of God should live. I realize now that I even took their presence and consistent example for granted. I looked forward to the future under the protection of their mature lives of patience, wisdom, and many kindnesses. The labors of most of those men have come to an end and today I face another situation. There are now numbers of fine younger men in training and starting out on their own ministries. What grace and zeal they have, but there appears to be less role models than the company with which I was favored. What Walker and Ventura have done in this splendid book is to return to the fountainhead of Christianity, to the apostle Paul with the authority the Lord Christ gave to him, his wisdom and compassion, and examine the apostle’s relationship with one congregation, how he advised and exhorted them concerning the demands of discipleship and their relationship with fellow believers. Paul became Christ’s servant and mouthpiece to them and he has left us with a timeless inspired example. He exhorted his readers more than once to be followers of him as he followed God. With a refreshing contemporary style, and with humble submission to the Scripture, these two ministers have given to us a role model for pastoral life. This is a very helpful book and a means of grace to me.

Paul Washer: This work on the Christian ministry is a clarion call to true devotion and piety in the pastorate. The theology is pure and the language is as powerful as it is beautiful. I pray that every pastor and congregant might take up this book and read it. It will hold a place in my library beside Baxter’s Reformed Pastor, Bridges’ Christian Ministry, and Spurgeon’s Lectures. I will refer to it often. It will serve as a great antidote against all that might cause my heart to stray from Christ’s call.

Conrad Mbewe: When I first sensed God’s call to the preaching ministry, I did a study of the life and ministry of the apostle Paul. And, oh, what a study that was! It opened my eyes to the difference between ministry in the New Testament and what is in vogue today. Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker have now brought all those truths that I saw into this one volume. I, therefore, commend this book to all who want to take God’s call to the work of ministry seriously. For, in these pages is the heart and experience of a true minister of the new covenant.

Steven J. Lawson: The greatest need in churches today is for godly men to shepherd the flock of God. To be sure, no church will rise any higher than the level of its spiritual leaders. Like priest, like people. To this end, Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker have done an exceptional job in providing a model for pastoral ministry, drawn from the extraordinary example of the apostle Paul. This book is built upon careful exegesis, proper interpretation, penetrating insight, and challenging application. Herein is profiled the kind of minister every church so desperately needs and what every true minister should desire to become.

Derek W. H. Thomas: In this dual-authored portrait of Paul as a minister of the gospel, Ventura and Walker have captured the very essence of ministry. On every page, we are forced to reflect upon the dimensions of apostolic ministry and urged to comply. Packed with exposition and application of the finest sort, these pages urge gospel-focused, Christ-centered, God-exalting, Spirit-empowered, self-denying ministry. I warmly recommend it.

Carl R. Trueman: This deceptively easy to read book consists of a series of reflection on Col.1:24 to 2:5 by two experienced pastors. In an age where there is much focus on technical aspects of ministry, Ventura and Walker analyse the topic in terms, first, of call and character, and then of the existential urgency with which the great doctrines of the faith are grasped by those called to the pastorate. Intended not just to be read but to be a practical guide in helping churches think through the role of the pastor, each chapter ends with a series of pointed questions, to Christians in general and to pastors in particular, which are designed to focus the minds of all concerned on what the priorities of the pastorate, and of candidates for the pastorate should be. This book is a biblical rebuke to modern trends, a challenge to those who think they may be called to the ministry, and a reality check for all believers everywhere.

Joseph A. Pipa Jr: Ventura’s and Walker’s A Portrait of Paul Identifying a True Minister of Christ makes an unique contribution to the literature on pastoral theology. Rather than approach their subject topically, they unfold Paul’s heart for and practice of ministry through an exposition of Colossians 1:24-2:5.  The authors balance careful and experimental exposition with challenging application–addressing both fellow Christians and pastors.  All serious Christians, as well as pastors, will profit from this book; it is intellectually satisfying, experimentally challenging, and practically stimulating.

Philip H. Towner: As the diverse churches of the world have demonstrated throughout history, there is no better place to turn, when confronted with the complexities of pastoral leadership, than the Scriptures.  Each church in each generation must revisit this resource and view it anew through its particular historical, theological, cultural and political lens. The authors of A Portrait of Paul engage precisely in this task. With Colossians as their main laboratory, they probe the text and engage Paul in a conversation about pastoral ministry—its priorities, foundation, and potential—and a profile of pastoral mission and leadership emerges.  All who read this book will discover an invitation to join this rich conversation and take away numerous fresh perspectives to challenge and shape their thinking.

Sam Waldron: What is A Portrait of Paul Identifying a True Minister of Christ? It is, first, the effort of two young pastors to teach themselves and their churches what it means to be a true minister of Christ. It is, second, an exposition of Colossians 1:24–2:5 which attempts to understand how Paul’s ministry gives them and their churches a paradigm of faithful ministry. It is, third, biblical exposition of Scripture in the best historic and Reformed tradition with careful exegesis, sound doctrine, popular appeal and practical application. As such, it is a very challenging book to read as Rob and Jeremy lay before us, for instance, the selflessness and suffering true ministry requires. It is, however, a good, useful, and profitable book to read. It can, and I hope it will, do much good!

Robert R. Gonzales Jr.: Rob Ventura and Jeremy Walker’s A Portrait of Paul is biblically sound, pointedly practical, and sagaciously simple. In addition to an exposition of Colossians 1:24-2:5, they provide the reader with a host of citations from other pertinent texts of Scriptures as well as judicious quotes from past and contemporary authors, all of which help to trace out the contours of Paul’s life and ministry. Each chapter concludes with practical applications directed both to fellow pastors (or aspiring pastors) and also to fellow Christians. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who would seek to imitate Paul as Paul sought to imitate Christ.

Pre-order in the US at RHB or WTS.

Further information to follow as it becomes available.

Pursuing the apostle

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A request for help: I am trying to track down a high-quality digital image (at least 300 dpi [dots per inch]) of the portrait below for a project.

The painting is St Paul (oil on canvas), by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni (1708-87) , and it is in the Basildon Park collection.

If you have such an image (especially if you would be willing to send it to me), or know how I could get hold of one, please leave a note in the comments and I will get back to you.  Anyone with any advice about copyright on something like this is also very welcome to leave a comment.

Thanks in advance for any help.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 4 March 2010 at 22:28

“Man’s husbandry and God’s bounty” by Benjamin B. Warfield

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Benjamin B. Warfield 2The address that follows comes from B. B. Warfield’s Faith & Life (Banner of Truth, 1974), a collection of discourses delivered at Sunday afternoon classes with the students of Princeton Seminary intended to explore the deeper currents of Christian faith and life.  This is a challenging and encouraging piece based on 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 that I read while preparing for a sermon a few weeks ago.  The repeated refrain of Warfield’s address is that God gives the increase.

Man’s husbandry and God’s bounty

1 Cor. 3:5-9: – “What then is Apollos?  And what is Paul?  Ministers through whom ye believed; and each as the Lord gave to him.  I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.  So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.  Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: but each shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.  For we are God’s fellow-workers; ye are God’s husbandry, God’s building.”

These verses form a natural section of this Epistle.  The Corinthians had sent a letter to the Apostle, making inquiries on several important matters.  But when the Apostle came to make reply, he had matters to speak to them about which were far more important than any of the questions asked in their letter.  Trusty friends had reported to him the serious deterioration which the Corinthian Church was undergoing, the strange, as we may think them, and certainly outbreaking, immoralities into which they were falling.  Chiefest of these, because most fundamental and most fecund [fruitful] of other evils, was the raging party spirit, which had arisen among them.  Greek-like, the Corinthians were not satisfied with the matter of the simple Gospel, in whatever form, but had begun to clothe its truths (and to obscure them in the act) in philosophical garb and rhetorical finery; and had split themselves into factions, far from tolerant of one another, rallying around special teachers and glorifying each, a special mode of presentation.  So far has this gone that the rival parties had long ago broken the peace of the Church, and were threatening its unity.

Paul devotes himself first of all to the shaming of this spirit and the elimination of its results.  In doing so he cuts to the roots.  He begins with a rebuke of the violence of the Corinthians’ party spirit, sarcastically suggesting that they had made Christ, who was the sole Redeemer of God’s Church and in whom were all, a share; and so parcelled Him out to one faction – as it others had had Paul to die for them and had been baptized in his name, and so on.  He then sets himself seriously to refute the whole basis of their factions and to place firmly under his readers’ feet the elements of the truth.  To do this, he first elucidates the relation of wisdom – philosophy and rhetoric, we would say now – to the Gospel; pointing out that the Gospel is not a product of human wisdom and is not to be commended by it; although, no doubt, it proclaims a Divine wisdom of its own to those who are capable of receiving it.  Thus he destroys the very nerve of their strife.  Then, with our present passage, he turns to the parallel occasion of their strife and explains the relation of the human agents through which it is propagated to the Gospel.  This he declares to be none other than the relation of hired servants to their husbandry of the good-man of the farm.  Proceeding to details, Paul and Apollos, he declares, are alike but servants, each doing whatever work is committed to him, work which may no doubt differ, externally considered, in kind, though it is exactly the same in this – that it is nothing but hired service, while it is God that gives the increase.  There is no difference in this respect; not that the work is not deserving of reward; reward, however, not as if the increase was theirs but only proportioned to the amount of their work as labour.  The harvest is God’s; that harvest which they themselves are.  They, the labourers, are fellow-labourers only, working for God.  They, the Corinthians, do not belong to them; they are God’s husbandry, God’s building.

Thus the Apostle not only intimates but emphatically asserts that the Church of God is not the product of the ministry; no, nor is any individual Christian.  Every Christian and the Church at large is God’s gift.  God sets workmen to labour in His vineyard; and rewards them richly for their labour, paying each all his wages.  But these labourers, it is not theirs to give the increase, nor even to choose their work.  It is theirs merely to work and to do each the special work which God appoints.  The vineyard is God’s and so is the increase, – which God Himself gives.

Now, looking at this general teaching of the passage in a broad and somewhat loose way, we see that the following important truths are intimated.

(1) Christianity is a work which God accomplishes in the heart and in the world.  It may even be said to be the work of God: the work that God has set Himself to do in this dispensation, and hence the second creation.

(2) Shifting the emphasis a bit, we perceive that the passage emphasizes the fact that Christianity is a work which is accomplished in the heart and in the world directly by God.

(3) Men are but God’s instruments, tools, “agents” (ministers) in performing this work.  They do not act in it for God, that is, instead of God; but God acts through them.  It is He that gives the increase.

(4) All men engaged in this work are in equally honourable employment.  If one plants and another waters and another reaps, it is all “one.”  They are all only fellow-labourers under God; equal in His sight and to be rewarded, not according to what they did, but according to how they did it.  This would not be true if man made the increase; but the reaper no more makes the harvest than the sower.  Nor would it be true if the reaper had the increase.  But it is not the reaper’s “field.”  He is a hired labourer, not an owner.  It is God’s field.  Each gets his wages; little or much according to the quality of his work.  Wages are measured by labour, not results.  And therefore it is all one to you and me, as labourers in God’s field, whether He sets us to plough, plant, water or reap.

Looking at these truths in turn:

What an encouragement it is to the Christian worker to know that Christianity is, so to speak (in the figure of the text), the crop which God the great husbandman has set Himself to plant and to raise in this “season” in which we leave.  Therefore this dispensation is called “the year of salvation.”  And therefore, when pleading a little later with these same Corinthians to receive the grace of God not in vain, Paul clinches the appeal with the pointed declaration that now, this dispensation, is that accepted time, that day of salvation, at last come, to which all the prophets pointed, for which all the saints of God had longed from the beginning of the world.  It is therefore again, leaving the figure, that this same Apostle declares that our Lord and Saviour has for the whole length of this dispensation assumed the post of the Ruler of the Universe, in order that all things may be administered for the fulfilment of His great redemptive purpose; in order that all things may, in a word, be made to work together for good to those that love Him.  In a word, God is a husbandman in this season which we call the inter-adventual period; and the crop that He is planting and watering and is to reap is His Church.

No wonder our Saviour declared the Kingdom of Heaven like unto a sower who went forth to sow; who spread widely the golden grain, and reaped it too, a harvest of many-fold yield.  For God’s husbandry cannot fail.  Other husbandmen are not in this wholly unlike their hired servants: they plant and water, – but they cannot compel life; and what may be the results of their labour they know not.  The floods may come, the winds may blow, the sun may parch the earth, the enemy may destroy the grain.  But God gives the increase.  It is therefore that the Redeemer sits on the throne, that floods and rain and sun – all the secret alchemy of nature – may be in His control, that “all things shall work together for good to them that love Him.”  There, I say, is our encouragement.  Christianity is the work of God, the work He has set Himself to do in this age in which we live.  As we go forth as His servants to plant and water, we may go upheld by a deathless hope.  The harvest cannot fail.  When the sands of time run out and God sends forth His reapers, the angels, there will be His harvest thick on the ground – and the field is the world.  The purpose of God stands sure.  We may not be called to see the end from the beginning.  But if God calls you and me to plant or to water, it is our blessed privilege to labour on in hope.

All this is just because the result is not ours to produce or to withhold.  It is God that gives the increase.  As Christianity is the work which God has set before Himself to accomplish in this age; so Christianity in the world and in the heart is a work which God alone can accomplish.  It is not in the power of any man to make a Christian, much less to make the Church – that great organized body of Christ, every member of which is a recreated man.  Why, we cannot make our own bodies; how much less the body of Christ!  If in this work Paul was nothing and Apollos nothing, what are we, their weak and unworthy successors!  This is the second great lesson our passage has to teach us; or, rather, we may better say this is the great lesson it teachers, for it was just to teach this that it was written.  The fault of the Corinthians was that they had forgotten who was the husbandman, who alone gave the increase.  Hence their divisions, making Christ only the share of one party, while others looked to Paul or Apollos or Cephas, just as if they stood related to the harvest in something of the same way as Christ.  Nay, says Paul, Christ alone is Lord of the harvest.  It is God alone who can give the increase.

Paul had reason to know this in his own experience.  He knew how he had been gathered into the Kingdom.  He was soon to acquire new reason for acknowledging it, in that journey of his from Ephesus to Macedonia, in which, while his heart was elsewhere, all unknown to himself God was leading him in triumph, compelling ever-increasing accessions to his train.  Nor did he ever stint his declaration of it.  Thus, take that passage (Eph. 2:10), where he, completing a long statement of God’s gracious dealings with Christians in quickening them into newness of life, without obscurity or hesitation outlines the whole process as a creative work of God.  “For it is by grace that ye are saved, through faith: nor is this of yourselves, it is God’s gift; not of works, lest some one should boast.  For we are His workmanship – creatures – created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath afore prepared that we should walk in them.”  This is Paul’s teaching everywhere: that as it is God who created us men, so it is God who has recreated us Christians.  And the one in as direct and true a sense as the other.  As He used agents in the one case – our natural generation (for none of us are born men without parents), so He may use instruments in the other, our spiritual regeneration (for none of us are born Christians where there is no Word).  But in both cases, it is God and God alone who gives the increase.

Let us not shrink from this teaching; it is the basis of our hope.  Though we be Pauls and Apolloses we cannot save a soul; though we be as eloquent as Demosthenes, as subtle as Aristotle, as convincing as Plato, as persistent as Socrates, we cannot save.  And though we be none of those, but a plain man with lisping lips, that can but let fall the Gospel truth in broken phrases – we need no eloquent Aaron for our prophet.  We need only God for our Master.  It is not we who save, it is God; and our place is not due to our learning or our rhetoric or our graces, it is due to the honouring of God, who has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will, He hardens.

Hence we have the great consolation of knowing that the responsibility of fruitage to our work does not depend absolutely on us.  We are not the husbandman; the field is not ours; its fruitage is not dependent on or limited by our ability to produce it.  All Christian ministers are but God’s “agents” (for that is the ultimate implication of the term used), employed by Him to secure His purposes; God’s instruments, God’s tools.  It is God who plans the cultivation, determines the sowing and sends us to do it.  Now this is to lower our pride.  Some ministers act as if they owned the field; they lord it over God’s heritage.  More feel as if they had produced all the results; made, “created,” the fruit.  They pride themselves on the results of their work and compare themselves to others’ disadvantage with their neighbours in the fruits granted to their ministry.  This is like a reaper boasting over the sower or ploughman, as if he had made the crop it has been allowed him to harvest.  Others feel depressed, cast down, at the smallness of the fruitage it has been allowed them to see from their work, and begin to suspect that they are not called to the ministry at all, because the work given them to do was not reaping.  And herein is the consolation: just because we are not doing God’s work for Him, but He is doing His own work through us; just because we do what work He appoints to us; not we but He is responsible for the harvest.  All that is required of stewards is that they be found faithful.

Hence – and this is the final and greatest consolation to us as ministers – it ought to be a matter of indifference to us what work God gives us to do in His husbandry.  Reaping is no more honourable than sowing; watering no less honourable than harvesting.  Men disturb themselves too much over the kind of work they are assigned to, and can scarcely believe they are working for God unless they are harvesting all the time.  But in the great organized body of labour it is as in the organized body to which Paul compares the Church later: if all were reapers, where were the sowing, where were the cultivating, where the watering?  And if no sowing, and no watering, where were the reaping?  It is not ours to determine what work we are to do.  It is for us to determine how we do it.  For none of us will fail of our wages and the wages are not proportioned to the kind of work, as if the reaper because he reaped would have all the reward.  The field is not his, and the harvest is not his.  He does not get the crop because he reaped it.  He gets just what the planter and waterer get, his wages.

Wages, I say, not proportioned to the kind of work, but to the labour he does.  Each one, says Paul, shall receive “his own reward” according to his own labour.  The amount of labour, not the department of work, is the norm of our reward.  What a consolation this is to the obscure workman to whom God has given much labour and few results; reward is proportioned to the labour, not the results!  And this for a very good reason.  God apportions the work on the one hand and gives the increase on the other.  But it is we that do the labour.  And, of course, we are rewarded according to what is done by us, not God.  Let us then labour on in whatever sphere God gives it to us to labour, content, happy, strenuous, untiring, determined only to do God’s work in God’s way; not seeking to intrude into work to which He has not appointed us, and not repining because He has given us this work and not that.  Each one to his own labour, and God the rewarder of all!

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 11 July 2009 at 14:46

Conflict for the Colossians

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This weekend we had friends from Texas staying at our home.  Five of the Simpson family were with us from Friday, leaving early this morning for Edinburgh.  On Friday I gave them the breakneck theologico-politico-historical tour of London, cut slightly short due to extreme weariness and the fact that they were going back into London themselves on Saturday.

Yesterday we continued our adult Sunday School classes on the Christian family, still looking at a husband’s love to his wife, and concentrating on the activities of love (nourishing and cherishing) and the tools of love (words backed up by deeds).  We briefly considered the created order (Adam as the definer and steward of words) and the redemptive pattern (God in Christ as the great Revealer and Communicator to and with his people) and began a brief tangent in which we hope to consider some principles for godly communication as husbands to our wives.

I had the evening service, in which I returned to the series on Colossians.  In Colossians 2.1 Paul opens a window on his heart so that the Colossians saints might understand his pastoral affection for them, the particular application of his labours on their behalf – Paul’s conflict for the Colossians.  We saw the apostle’s warmth of heart (contending, striving, agonising on behalf of God’s people), the concerns of his heart (those with whom he shares true spiritual unity and affinity, regardless of distance or intimate personal acquaintance), and the activity of that heart (manifesting its affection by every legitimate means, and particular through wrestling in prayer with God, against the devil, for the saints).

In Paul’s example we find a vivid portrait of a true pastor’s heart (love declared and demonstrated paving the way for exhortation and admonition), a suggestive portrait of a true Christian’s heart (concern for the wider church manifested in earnest prayer and potent petition to God), and a faint portrait of Christ’s heart, the great Pastor of the whole flock.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 23 June 2008 at 11:26

Angelology

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Phil Johnson writes an interesting post on angelology: an attempt to give a clear and concise view of the Biblical doctrine, contra some of the nonsense thrown around in New Age and pseudo-Christian circles. Not so long ago Evangelical Press published a book on angels in their “What the Bible teaches about . . .” series. Tim Challies reviews it here. While I have often thought of preaching positively through some of the Biblical data regarding angels, it seems to me that a Scriptural understanding of angels (and a good sermon) must put them in their relationship to God and Christ.

Writing to the church at Colosse, the apostle Paul was confronted with a situation in which the errorists were devaluing and degrading Christ. One of their particular lines of assault was to suggest that there were a number of spiritual mediators alongside Christ by whom a man could approach God. Paul blows this right out of the water, not least in Colossians 1:16. You can listen to a sermon on that text – dealing more with the abuses of the doctrine of angels than anything else – here.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 19 May 2008 at 09:06

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