EXAMPLES TO FOLLOW
Readings: 1 Chronicles ch. 16; Galations chs. 1 and 2
It is a measure of the elevation of the nation of Israel in the days of David that they received with joy his proposal to bring back the ark of God. He said: "Let us bring again the ark of our God to us", and the people said that they would do so, for the thing was right in the sight of all the people. There had been this national upsurging of joyfulness throughout the whole kingdom because now it was at last confirmed under the hand of David. The dark days of the monarchy of Saul and the uncertain days which followed were now over, and it was in their joy that David turned their thoughts to God. The ark symbolised all that appertained to his religion and to that of his people. God's presence was symbolised among them by this ark; and David said: "We enquired not at it in the days of Saul". But now, the thing was right in the sight of all Israel to bring again that holy thing that contained the law, and to provide a resting place for it. We read that David prepared a place for the ark of God and pitched for it a tent, and all Israel rejoiced.
Now in passing, this is an experience which is not unknown in the ecclesias. If the members of an ecclesia are joyful in their service and zealous in God's work, a spirit of happiness and of joyfulness pervades the whole ecclesia; it is a spirit which is infectious, and often carries us along to further adventures, shall we say, in the work of God, causing us to undertake new tasks on His behalf. But nothing can be more damping to arciour and to zeal than to see that there is no enthusiasm, to find tasks are carried out perfunctorily or halfheartedly or soullessly, or some-times not at all. So therefore, like Israel, we can have that spirit of joyfulness among us, that ardent, faithful, earnest service to God, and it is infectious. The whole ecclesia is uplifted by the feeling that we are working together in harmony for Him. In the case of Israel the joyful day came when they brought the ark of God and set it in the midst of the tent that David had prepared for it. It was a joyful day, moreover, when David appointed the Levites to minister; Zadok and his brethren to offer sacrifices; Asaph and others to praise upon harps and psalteries and cymbals, and the whole was an expression of ardent and joyful worship before God. It was an outward expression of the Psalm which David wrote for this actual occasion. In 1 Chron. 16.8 he exhorted them to "Give thanks unto the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the people. Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him, talk ye of all his wondrous works. Glory ye in his holy name; let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord". We can apply those same words to ourselves and to our service before God. Still further, in v 23: "Sing unto the Lord, all the earth; shew forth from day to day his salvation. Declare his glory among the heathen; his marvellous works among all nations. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he also is to be feared among all gods". Verse 29: "Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; bring an offering, and come before him; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness". Verse 36: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel for ever and ever. And all the people said, Amen, and praised the Lord".
Now this fervour passed, and the national rejoicings became fewer and fewer; yet from time to time there was a revival of this spirit of joy amongst the people. During the days, for example, of Josiah when they kept the great passover; during the days of Hezekiah, and then again, upon their return from the captivity, the law was once more revived under the labours of Ezra and Nehemiah. Many of the sects among the Jews in the days of Christ originated because of the desire to uphold the law; the Pharisees demanding adherence to the strictest letter of the law whether oral or written; the Sadducees limiting their understanding to the written word only; and the Essenes more strict even than the Pharisees, almost monastic in their separation. Thus it is not altogether surprising that the enactments of the law of Moses which had been for so long held by their forefathers, and had been revived from time to time in their memory, should find a lingering effect in the lives of brethren and sisters of the first century, bringing with it certain questions and certain problems. For example, James and John and Peter, like Paul, had been brought up in the Jews religion, and some even of those who were called pillars in the ecclesia wondered whether some of the law should be kept. Nor is it surprising that at places like Galatia and Colosse there would be some who would be likeminded, wondering whether they should adhere to some of the laws that appertained to the law of Moses, because many of the early converts were converts from the synagogue. It was Paul's custom, and indeed no doubt the custom of many others of the apostles, when they went into a city, to first go into the synagogue; and when they left the city we can well imagine what arguments might arise between those who had been converted and those who had not been persuaded. The question would arise: Ought they still to circumcise? Or was there still any efficacy in the law? Surely such is the background to this epistle to the Galations which we have commenced to read. There were some who had brought another gospel, and the nature of that other gospel, of that teaching, is clearly shown in the reference to Peter. Peter, Paul said, forsook the company of the Gentiles; thus he maintained a separation between Jew and Gentile because'he feared lest he should hurt the susceptibilities of the Jews at Jerusalem. It is shown also in the statement of Paul: "A man is not justified by the works of the law", obviously countering some suggestion that the law could still justify. So the Judaizers were at work endeavouring to foster an adherence to the law among the Gentiles.
Now to combat this the apostle Paul brought before them two points. First of all, he said that his knowledge of the gospel of Christ was not of man: "I neither received it of man,, neither was I taught it... Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me... Those who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me". So his testimony of the doctrine of Christ and the gospel of the Kingdom of God was independent of and additional to the word of the apostles. Therefore he could unhesitatingly claim, as he did in the 1 st chapter of the letter to the Gal. v 1, that he was "an apostle, not of man, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father"; and he could further say in v 11: "I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ". That was the first point € he was not following any traditions of men.
Then the second point: he associates with this call to the apostleship a grace or favour. The very call to the apostleship had been a grace to him, the very vision was a favour; but in addition he had received the great gifts of the Spirit, and we read in the Acts of the Apostles that God wrought special miracles by the hand of Paul; and he said to the Corinthians: "Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds". And these things, the evidence of God working in and through him, he rehearsed to the elders at Jerusalem: "When they came to Jerusalem, they were received of the church... declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them", a testimony which was so effective that it could not be denied. He declared in the same epistle to the Gal. ch. 3.5: "He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" There could be no answer to that position he placed before them € the miracles were by the hearing of faith and not according to the works of the law. So therefore, in ch. 2.9: "And when James, Cephus and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision". As a result of this commission, the churches of Galatia were established and were confirmed.
Now why have we reviewed these first-century happenings and the circumstances that followed the setting up of the ecclesias? Because they should bring before us some points which are worthy of application today. In the first instance we may speak of those things which affect the ecclesia as a whole, or the Brotherhood as a whole. Sometimes we are faced with a new situation; a changing world brings a new development, or a new demand upon us, and it is not always at first that one can see clearly and at once formulate a direct decision. If this was so in the first century when they had the gifts of the Spirit, it will certainly be so now. And sometimes it is possible we may have to make a revision of things which we formerly thought; but once the matter is stabilised and once there is unanimity of mind, once there is definition of thought and action based upon sound Scriptural principles, there must be resoluteness in maintaining those principles. Paul had not so learned Christ that he could temporise over the matters of the law. "If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain". Moreover you will notice it is not a matter wherein one ecclesia could do one thing and another ecclesia could do another. The churches of Judea could not please themselves in this matter and continue to do the things which were written in the law; indeed their weakness had reached to Galatia. Look at ch. 5.7 where the apostle says: "Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump". So the situation had grown whereby some ecclesias said that certain of the Gentiles must be circumcised, and other ecclesias said it was not necessary, and this was destructive of true fellowship. So we notice that when Paul and Barnabas declared their position, and the others, seeing the force of what they said, assented, they gave them the right hand of fellowship. Geographical separation in the first century was no excuse for divergence of belief or of practice, or of looseness in fellowship, and neither is it today.
But if there was a tendency in those who were of Israel to bring in again the ordinances of the law, there are indications also that there was a tendency in those drawn from outside, from the Gentiles, to bring in again the customs which they had once observed. There are indications, for example in the epistle to the Corinthians, that the Corinthians had not forsaken entirely their former practices. Paul says: "I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would". The constitution of the ecclesias then, and of the ecclesias today, is such that there are many who are brought from outside. Our ecclesia, for example, is composed of some who have always in a sense been in the Truth: their parents, their grandparents and the whole of the family, as it were, have been in the Truth; but there are others of us who have been brought in from outside, and there is always a danger that those from outside will bring what one might call Gentilism into the meeting, and revert to former customs and former practices. Now these brethren are a close parallel to the Judaizers in the time of the apostle Paul, bringing into the Truth things which they formerly esteemed; and yet the truth requires that, just as the Jew should be dead to the law of Moses, so the Gentile should be dead to the laws of men. Gentilism € and by that we mean the customs and practices of the world € will always beat against the rock of the Truth, seeking to make a breach or an. inroad; and it is almost inevitable that the fashions of this world shall seep in here a little and there a little, into the stronghold.
Well, let our acceptance of the changing world be such that we follow afar off, using only so much as to avoid undue notice which would be given by any eccentricities of ours in following bygone fashions. Let our dress, our demeanour, our deportment, our habits, be characterised by extreme temperance, by sobriety, by quietness, by graciousness. We should never be found in the van of the world's fashions. To set our minds and affections and energies in keeping up with the world is to bring Gentile influences into the Truth and into the meetings, and is indeed to merit the words of the apostle Paul which he wrote in this 3rd chapter v 3: "Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain". This, we feel, is an application of the first century difficulties to our own times.
Now there is a further application, and it is a more personal one. It is this time an example. We have the example here of how the apostle Paul acted in these various circumstances. It could not have been easy for the apostle to run counter to such as Peter. Peter was an apostle from the very first; he was chosen with James and John particularly by Christ for some very special occasions. He was foremost after the day of Pentecost in declaring the Word of God; he received the apostleship of the circumcision, and by a vision he received enlightenment in relation to tfie position of Jew and Gentile; he had been told, "Call thou nothing common or unclean". Yet Paul did not hesitate in this matter of princi-ple € and here was a matter of principle; as we read in ch. 2.14: "But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?" How soon the Judaizers would have won the day if this tendency to discriminate between Jew and Gentile had been allowed to grow; how it would have opened the way for the implanting of the law of Moses upon the law of Christ; and how soon the old covenant would have made of none effect the new and living covenant. How necessary, therefore, it was to give a clear lead; and so Paul says: "If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ."
You gather the meaning of the application of those words from the setting. The apostle Paul had received the gospel by the revelation of Jesus Christ; he had been made an apostle by Jesus Christ; his service then was to him, whether or not it brought displeasure to men.
Here, then, is a clear example for us to follow, one of those examples which bring to mind the words of the apostle Paul when he said, "Be ye followers of me". We trust that it is not often necessary to rebuke brethren and sisters, and when it is, it is not an easy task; nevertheless it is a painful duty and one which is not limited to those whom you elect to fill offices. And when it is performed it should not incur displeasure, though it sometimes does; and it should not cause the upspringing of any root of bitterness, as it sometimes does; but whether it does or not it is a necessary duty.
Now there is another little point. Sometimes our acts bring displeasure to men in general. They are displeased because we will not join with them in their various activities, and they express their displeasure. But we need not fear that displeasure. What is its value when placed against the pleasure which we give to God by maintaining our separateness and holding fast to our integrity? This was the resoluteness of the apostle Paul; let it be our resoluteness in following him, and in so doing we get an echo of that resoluteness which had been shown centuries before by David with Israel: "Let us bring again the ark of our God to us". And when it was brought, it brought joy and thanksgiving; "All the congre-gation said that they would do so", and they brought it to the place they had prepared that they might worship.
Now we have no need in these days to prepare a place or to pitch a tent in order that the ark of God may be once more brought and placed therein. There is no need for us in these days to offer burnt sacrifices and peace offerings in an actual sense. We meet by comparison in a very simple way around the two emblems; Christ is our mercyseat; He is the pure gold covering for the sins of the world; He is now also the embodiment of Spirit power symbolised in the Cherubim. But neverthe-less there is need for us 'at all times to prepare a place for God in our hearts. We do have to prepare our minds and hearts to receive Him in order that we may worship Him truly; and we do have to bring His doctrines into our lives. If we do this, then the same joy and thanksgiving will be the result, as it was in the case of Israel. We come before Him with rejoicing; we can be glad because of the favour that He has shown unto us; we can give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name, and we can bring an offering and come before Him and worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
Let us therefore, with these emblems before us, be resolute and firm in our adherence to the things which are most surely believed among us.
Let us worship our God with the full assurance of the Truth that has come unto us; and then we shall have that joy and thanksgiving now in our collective worship, and in the days to come a place in that everlasting habitation which He has prepared for all those who love and serve Him: € W. R. Mitchell