Better Things – Simple Things

Issue No 4

Adapted for Publication from an Address by Jim Macfarlane at Warrenpoinnt, N Ireland, 2 July 2017

 

For me to live [is] Christ, and to die gain; but if to live in flesh [is my lot], this is for me worth the while: and what I shall choose I cannot tell.  But I am pressed by both, having the desire for departure and being with Christ, [for] [it is] very much better, but remaining in the flesh [is] more necessary for your sakes. . .

Philippians 1:21-24

ThoughIhave [my] trust even in flesh; if any other think to trust in flesh, Irather: as to circumcision, [I received it] the eighth day; of [the] race of Israel, of [the] tribe of Benjamin, Hebrew of Hebrews; as to [the] law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, persecuting the assembly; as to righteousness which [is] in [the] law, found blameless;but what things were gain to me these I counted, on account of Christ, loss. But surely I count also all things to be loss on account of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, on account of whom I have suffered the loss of all, and count them to be filth, that I may gain Christ; and that I may be found in him, not having my righteousness, which [would be] on the principle of law, but that which is by faith of Christ, the righteousness which [is] of God through faith  of Christ, the righteousness which [is] of God through faith, to know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, if any way I arrive at the resurrection from among [the] dead.

Philippians 3:11

Brethren, I do not count to have got possession myself; but one thing — forgetting the things behind, and stretching out to the things before, I pursue, [looking] towards [the] goal, for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus. 

Philippians 3:13-14

 For this Melchisedec, King of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from smiting the kings, and blessed him; to whom Abraham gave also the tenth portion of all; first being interpreted King of righteousness, and then also King of Salem, which is King of peace; without father, without mother, without genealogy; having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but assimilated to the Son of God, abides a priest continually.  Now consider how great this [personage] was, to whom [even] the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth out of the spoils. And they indeed from among the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have commandment to take tithes from the people according to the law, that is from their brethren, though these are come out of the loins of Abraham: but he who has no genealogy from them has tithed Abraham, and blessed him who had the promises.

Hebrews 7:1-6

 For it is borne witness, Thouart a priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedec.  For there is a setting aside of the commandment going before for its weakness and unprofitableness, (for the law perfected nothing,) and the introduction of a better hope by which we draw nigh to God.  And by how much [it was] not without the swearing of an oath; (for they are become priests without the swearing of an oath, but he with the swearing of an oath, by him who said, as to him, The Lord has sworn, and will not repent [of it], Thou[art] priest for ever [according to the order of Melchisedec];) by so much Jesus became surety of a better covenant.  And they have been many priests, on account of being hindered from continuing by death; but he, because of his continuing for ever, has the priesthood unchangeable. Whence also he is able to save completely those who approach by him to God, always living to intercede for them.  For such a high priest became us, holy, harmless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and become higher than the heavens: who has not day by day need, as the high priests, first to offer up sacrifices for his own sins, then [for] those of the people; for this he did once for all [in] having offered up himself. For the law constitutes men high priests, having infirmity; but the word of the swearing of the oath which [is] after the law, a Son perfected for ever.

Hebrews 7:17-26

Now a summary of the things of which we are speaking [is], We have such a one high priest who has sat down on [the] right hand of the throne of the greatness in the heavens; minister of the holy places and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord has pitched, [and] not man.

Hebrews 8:1-2

 But now he has got a more excellent ministry, by so much as he is mediator of a better covenant, which is established on the footing of better promises.  For if that first was faultless, place had not been sought for a second.

Hebrews 8: 6-7

But Christ being come high priest of the good things to come, by the better and more perfect tabernacle not made with hand, (that is, not of this creation,) nor by blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, has entered in once for all into the [holy of] holies, having found an eternal redemption.

Hebrews 9:11-12

And the tabernacle too and all the vessels of service he sprinkled in like manner with blood; and almost all things are purified with blood according to the law, and without blood-shedding there is no remission.  [It was] necessary then that the figurative representations of the things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with sacrifices better than these. For the Christ is not entered into holy places made with hand, figures of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us: since he had [then] been obliged often to suffer from the foundation of the world.

Hebrews 9:21-26

Having therefore, brethren, boldness for entering into the [holy of] holies by the blood of Jesus, the new and living way which he has dedicated for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and [having] a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, sprinkled as to our hearts from a wicked conscience, and washed as to our body with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of the hope unwavering, (for he [is] faithful who has promised;) and let us consider one another for provoking to love and good works; not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the custom [is] with some; but encouraging [one another], and by so much the more as ye see the day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:19-24

 

 

A short time ago, one of our elderly sisters in Dundee[*]was taken to be with the Lord Jesus.  In the epistle to the Philippians Paul speaks about transforming our ‘body of humiliation into conformity to His body of glory’ (Philippians 3:21). This dear feeble sister, almost 91 years old, had a body of humiliation; it was physically feeble, and it was a merciful release for her.  Although she found it very difficult to communicate, in the days just before the Lord Jesus took her to be with Himself, her husband had occasion to refer to this well-known passage in Philippians 1 which we read first. Our brother said to her, ‘… having the desire for departure and being with Christ…’.  In spite of having communicated nothing coherent for quite some time, she added, with total clarity, ‘which is far better’ (v. 23KJV). He was very encouraged by that.   Now if she was as feeble as that, one might say that would not be difficult, but I do not think that was the kind of comparison that the apostle was intending to make here.

I’d like to engage us with ‘Better Things’.   My desire is that we might be able to get some impression of the access we have in Christianity to those better things.

Another comparison we might make is with the apostle’s circumstances. Paul was a prisoner of the Roman Empire at this time. This must have been a very unpleasant experience, so the prospect of ‘being with Christ, for it is very much better’ might be compared with that; but I don’t think that is the comparison he had in mind either.   Paul said in chapter 4, ‘I have strength for all things in Him that gives me power’ (v. 13), and a little further down: ‘I have all things in full supply and abound’(v.18). That doesn’t sound like someone miserable, sitting chained in the prison in Rome.  What Paul referred to were good things, and if the apostle was saying that being with Christ was very much better than those, it must be very good indeed!

A characteristic expression in the Epistle to the Hebrews is ‘better things’(ch. 6:9,  12:24etc.).  Later we will also consider Hebrews as the ‘book of the opened heavens’.

I would like to digress and say a little bit about the Jewish law, because it is the background to the Epistle to the Hebrews.  The epistle was written to Jewish believers whose background was the Jewish law.  I think that it is fair to say that the law that was given to the Jews was a mark of God’s favour to them. It may have made demands, but it was a system by which a man could establish himself as righteous before God.  In principle, the Jewish law was a good thing, but Hebrews is about what is better than that.  Indeed Paul said that the law was more than ‘holy, and just, and good’: it was spiritual (see Romans 7:12-14).

Galatians 6:7tells us, ‘whatever a man shall sow, that also shall he reap’ .  This shows that there are moral consequences to all of our actions.  Any person who does right or wrong will reap accordingly: it is a law of the moral universe.  In the New Testament, I don’t think that it is retributive.

So, in the physical universe: if you apply a force to a moveable object, it will start to move in the direction of the force and accelerate until an opposite force slows it down.  That always happens: the acceleration is a consequence of the force. In the same way, reaping what one sows is morally inevitable.   A Jew knew that: the law was in the inspired Word of God, and he must give consideration to it in all his actions.   That was in his favour.

We read in Philippians 3because it speaks of the transformation which the apostle Paul experienced.   As Saul of Tarsus, he had been proud of his national and social distinctions: ‘of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, Hebrew of Hebrews, as to the law, a Pharisee. As to righteousness which is in the law, found blameless’(v.5-6).  He had reckoned that his compliance with the requirements of the law had given him personal distinction.  However, after his encounter with Jesus, he had a completely different view. ‘I have suffered the loss of all, and count them to be filth, that I may gain Christ’(v. 8).  Included in what Paul counted filth was his pride in his blamelessness as to the requirements of the law. (Of course, the law itself could not be counted loss and filth).

Paul was proud of being a Pharisee. The Pharisees advertised, at every turn, their strict conformity to what Moses had indicated.  For example, they made broad their phylacteries[†],  and could quote the law to justify their actions. The Lord Jesus was hard on the Pharisees, but gracious to the moral wrecks.

At one point He condemned them for advertising the fact that they tithed everything, even ‘mint and rue and every herb’(Luke 11:42). That is just like saying that a tenth of the salt and pepper that you put on your meal was set aside and dedicated to the temple system. They were as fastidious as that. But the Lord Jesus, when speaking to them in respect of this, said they were ‘teaching as their teachings commandments of men’ (Mark 7:7). I find it interesting to look at the original in the prophet Isaiah and see how he phrases it, ‘Your fear of me is a commandment taught of men’(Isaiah 29:13).

Their contention would have been that this was part of their Jewish tradition. There was the law that was given by Moses, but over the centuries, up to the point when Isaiah was prophesying, they had added a vast superstructure of additional regulations built on top the law that Moses had given. At that time, it was generally regarded as the ‘oral law’, handed down by those who were initiated, scribes (doctors of the law) and Pharisees. Later this was to be codified into writings such as the Talmudand the Midrash.  They had taken the law and manipulated it, setting out many further requirements, claiming the same authority as the Torah, God’s law given by Moses.  Moses’ law was relatively straightforward, and necessarily so, because everybody, however simple and uneducated, had to be able to understand what God required.  But these people had dedicated the whole of their lives, not only to what Moses commanded, but to the great edifice of additional doctrinal interpretation.  The Lord referred to this in the ‘traditional teaching’ when he referred to the washing of vessels (still practiced by many Jews), and the reference to ‘corban’ negating God’s commandment (See Matthew 15:3and Mark 7:10-13).   This traditional teaching was ultimately used to contradict the Lord Jesus, the only one who glorified God by fulfilling the law in its letter and spirit.

This is something that I think we have to consider, because it has not happened only in Judaism: it has happened in Christianity as well.  We can all, I am sure, relate to this

I would like to speak briefly about one of the leaders in the Reformation, Guillaume Farel (1489-1565)[‡]a Frenchman.  He was very significant in the reformer community in Geneva.  If you go to Geneva, to the Reformation Wall, there are four statues of men who were central to the Reformation.  Farel is one of them, along with Calvin, Knox and Beza.  Farel undertook a translation of the scriptures from Latin into French.  The religious authorities of the day objected to this, because if the people knew what was really said in the scriptures, their control would be diminished.  However, the bishop of Meaux, near Paris, was favourable to Farel’s activity. One day Farel and the bishop’s conversation turned to the vast system of complexity that had been built up around the Roman Mass. The bishop’s comment to Farel was that these things were added, one at a time, for the best of reasons.  Farel’s reply to him was that when Peter said to the Lord, ‘Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee’ (Matthew 16:22KJV), he said it with the best of intentions but the Lord’s reply was, ‘Get thee behind me, Satan’ (v.23) I just leave this little anecdote with the brethren, because I think it’s something that we need to consider.  Christianity is a simple matter and it must be within the scope of everyone: what comes within everyone’s scope are better things! Better things are simple things.

To return to Hebrews, those addressed were from the same background as Paul– institutional Judaism.  Hebrews is an interesting book, quite different from most other books of the Bible.  For example, the author’s name is not given – that is not surprising, because the force of its introduction is that the one who speaks is God. ‘God having spoken in many parts and in many ways formerly to the fathers in the prophets, at the end of these days has spoken to us in [the person of the] Son’ (Hebrews 1:1-2). That’s who the speaker is: God in the Person of the Son.

The writer of Hebrews told his readers in Chapter 1that he was going to be speaking about better things, starting with the One whowas ‘[the] effulgence of his glory and [the] expression of his [i.e. God’s]substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, having made [by himself] the purification of sins, set himself down on the right hand of the greatness on high, taking a place by so much better than the angels, as he inherits a name more excellent than they’(Hebrews 1:3-4).  He was going to take up the system with which the Jews were familiar and show that the real spiritual heavenly substance of them was in what God had established in Christ.   They would get the profit and benefit of better things, for their blessing.

As we read Hebrews, we are introduced to better things.  We understand them because of our direct connection with God, revealed in Jesus Christ. Laying hold of these better things, we ultimately become true worshippers.

The Lord Jesus told the poor woman at the well that God was looking for true worshippers – those that worship in spirit and truth (See John 4:24). So the writer begins with another priesthood.  In this connection, I draw  your attention to Hebrews 7:25, ‘Whence also he is able to save completely those who approach by him to God, always living to intercede for them’.   This makes the purpose of the new priesthood clear: to lead those who have received salvation in their approach to God by Him.

It’s an interesting development that the writer gave in these earlier verses. Basically, he said that Aaron’s priesthood had been superseded. Aaron’s priesthood was represented in the person of Abraham, Aaron being in Abraham’s loins (see ch. 7:5).  Normally, in the Jewish system, tithes were paid to the priests, that is to Levi and the system of priesthood represented by him.  But Abraham paid a tithe to Melchisedec, one who was representative of the Lord Jesus in a new system of priesthood. In other words, the old Aaronic system has been superseded.

The other function of the priest, is to sustain us in infirmity.  We need that service all the time.  It says of this new Priest according to the order of Melchisedec, ‘For we have not a high priest not able to sympathise with our infirmities, but tempted in all things in like manner, sin apart’ (Hebrews 4:15).  What distinction lies upon those who are served by Him! ‘Such a high priest became us, holy, harmless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and become higher than the heavens.’ (Ch. 7:26)

The other characteristic of the Epistle to the Hebrews is its being the book of the opened heavens[§].  So there is a new priest and, in the summary given in the opening  verses of chapter 8, we learn that the new Priest has ‘sat down on the right hand of the throne of the greatness in the heavens’ (Hebrews 8:1).   Not only is the Lord Jesus the new High Priest who goes in to God and sustains those who are there with Him, but He is mediator – the one who acts for God towards men. He is ‘mediator of a better covenant, which is established on the footing of better promises’(v. 6) – two ‘betters’ in the same verse!

Chapter 9begins by setting out the Jewish thought of a sanctuary, ‘a worldly one’(ch. 9:1). The material things of the old system were a figurative representation of the things in the heavens. Both the material and the heavenly sanctuaries had to be purified by blood, but ‘the heavenly things themselves [were purified] with sacrifices better than these’(v. 23). Figuratively, the holy of holies was the place of the presence of God: it was not accessible.  The ark of the covenant was there, and access to it was permitted only once a year, by the high priest alone, ‘with blood not his own’ (v. 25).  In the new arrangement, ‘Christ being come high priest of the good things to come, by the better and more perfect tabernacle not made with hand, . . . has entered in once for all into the [holy of holies], having found an eternal redemption’ (v. 11-12).   So access was not just once a year, with an offering which was repeated each time, but He, our Great High Priest, has gone in once for all in the efficacy of His own blood.   Hence we have access with boldness into the holy of holies, where the sense of the presence of God compels worship.

The new worshippers are introduced in Chapter 10.  The Lord has gone in: now there is a worshipping company that can also go into the presence of God in total suitability.  As we enter in as worshippers, we are sustained the Great High Priest.

I conclude by reading briefly from the end of Chapter 6, referring to the blessing of Abraham, as an introduction, in its reference to Melchisedec, to the four chapters with which we have been engaged : ‘Wherein God, willing to show more abundantly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of his purpose, intervened by an oath, that by two unchangeable things, in which it was impossible that God should lie, we might have a strong encouragement, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us, which we have as anchor for the soul, both secure and firm, and entering into that within the veil, wherein Jesus is entered as forerunner for us, become for ever a high priest according to the order of Melchisedec” (Hebrews 6:17-20).

These are inspiring words: may everybody here have some sense of the enormous elevation, privilege, and blessing, of having this confidence referred to in these last few verses of Chapter 6.

May it be so, for His Name’s sake.

 

Warrenpoint
2ndJuly 2017

Edited by: Daniel Roberts, Strood, Kent  (daniel@adayofsmallthings.com)

 

[*]Mrs Isobel Strachan (1926-2017)

 

[†]Phylacteries consisted of a small leather boxes containing the four passages in which frontlets are mentioned (Exodus 13:2-16Deuteronomy 6:4-9Deuteronomy 11:13-22), written on four slips of parchment.  These were fastened with leather straps, with one box on the heart and the other on the brow. They were worn commonly during the act of prayer (hence the Hebrew name tephillin– prayers).  The Pharisees, in their ostentatious show of piety, made either the box or the straps wider than the common size (Matthew 23:5), and wore them as they walked to and fro in the streets, or prayed standing (Matthew 6:5), that people might see and admire them. (From Ellicott)

 

[‡]For more on Farel see Wikipedia

 

[§]Ministry of J Taylor Vol 44 p.166

Worshipping God

 

JohnNelsonDarbyMany Christians have only a vague notion as to worship. They may have turned from clerical formalism with its superstitious rituals, but they do not have a true understanding of what worship is. What, then, is it?

Worship is the honour and adoration rendered to God, by reason of what He is in Himself, and what He is for those who render it. Worship proceeds in heaven, and we have the privilege of entering into it here collectively. In doing so we have joy and blessing, our hearts feeling and responding to God’s love. We love Him in return.

Of course an isolated individual can worship, but not in its fullest sense. He or she can bless God for His goodness. But it needs more than one person for true worship.

 

What is, and what is not Worship

  • A testimony respecting God and His grace is not worship.
  • Preaching the gospel to the unconverted is not worship.
  • A sermon is not worship.
  • Prayers addressed to God as to our need are not worship.
  • Referring to God’s glory, but not addressing Him is not worship.

The gospel might produce worship for it is God’s testimony to man. No Christian worship could exist without it, for the gospel makes known the God who is to be adored. The Holy Spirit leads the soul into the state in which it is able to render true homage to Go in spirit and in truth.  It is sweet to rehearse, one to the other, the excellences of Him whom we love with God Himself in our thoughts.

But in worship Christians delight to address themselves to Him.

  • They to speak to and converse with Him, adoring Him personally.
  • They speak to God of His attributes and acts.
  • They open their hearts to Him, to tell Him that they love Him.
  • They delight in their relationship and communion with Him.
  • They testify to His greatness and goodness.

In worship communion is between ourselves and God, and God is more precious to us than even our brethren. Our affections have a higher tone and communion is more complete.

As to Israel

The children of Israel worshipped God, but they could not draw near to Him. God had redeemed them out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm and had borne them as upon eagles’ wings, and had brought them even to Himself (See Ex. 19:4). God had promised that they should worship Him upon Mount Sinai, but it was amid thunders, fire, and the voice of a trumpet. Even Moses trembled.

Under the law God placed man in a position where he could bring forth fruit to His glory. He showed what man ought to be and blessed him if he was faithful and judged him if he was not. Under such circumstances God could not fully reveal His holiness and love. Either have had to tolerate iniquity, or banish those who sinned absolutely and eternally from His presence. So, under the law, God concealed Himself.

The people did not even enter into His house. The high priest alone went in once every year in order to carry in the blood of the ram and the bullock — the propitiatory victims — and to make reconciliation for the people with a God who could not endure iniquity. The people sought His protection, and worshipped Him for the benefits He conferred. This was a foreshadowing of Christian worship, but the principles of its exercise were totally different.

 

Christian Worship

It has all changed now. God has not changed, the revelation which He makes of Himself has. Although there is a light to which we cannot approach, He has revealed Himself in Christ.

Christianity is based upon an altogether new relationship between God and man. It was in God’s counsels before the world’s foundation, but it waited for the height of man’s enmity against God: Christ appeared, and man crucified Him!

Now if there is to be a relationship, all must be grace. If God’s goodness and grace is rejected there can only be judgment. This dark background throws into relief the perfection and brilliancy of grace.

Thank God, we are now occupied with grace. There is no longer any question of guilt between the worshipper and God. Christ has abolished it by His sacrifice. The work of Christ has provided the meeting-place between God and the sinner: love has free course, and we can enjoy all God’s blessings. We are reconciled to God and have been brought to enjoy a new relationship.

We have a striking expression of the consequence of the death of Christ in the rending of the veil of the temple. The holy of holies was hidden behind the veil, so no one could draw near to God. Who would dare to present himself before God if all guilt had not been removed? But the veil has been rent from the top to the bottom: now we can enter the most holy place freely. The stroke which rent the veil, smote the Son of God, when He took our sin upon Himself. He has cleansed our consciences by His perfect and eternal work. Hence we are able to enter the holiest joyfully and without spot.

The relationship of God to the Church is presented to us strikingly in the title ‘God of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ When God is called the God of any one, it indicates that a tie of intimacy. Christ is viewed as a man, the head of a new family, who has ascended to His God and our God. We see this truth in Ephesians chapters 1 and 2 Those who were ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Eph 2:1) are to know ‘what is the hope of the calling of God, and what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints’ (Ch. 1:18). We learn the true power and extent of that glory:the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places (v. 19-20). All that is His is ours – we have a place then in the presence of God! Even the glory that God has given Jesus, He has given to us, in order that the world may know that we are loved as He is. (See John 17:22-23).

 

The Holy Spirit

Another truth connected with the work of Christ is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit shows, reveals, and communicates divine things to us. We are ‘strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man, in order that, being rooted and grounded in love, Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith, and that we may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fulness of God’ (Eph. 3:16-19). ‘That which eye hath not seen, which ear hath not heard, which came not into the heart of man — the things which God has prepared for him whom He loves — God has revealed them unto us by His Spirit; for the Spirit searcheth all things, even the deep things of God (1 Cor 2:9-10).

  • The Holy Spirit is “the unction” by which “know all things” (See 1 John 2:20).
  • He is the seal which God has put upon us unto the day of redemption
  • He gives us the full assurance of the efficacy of the work of Christ.
  • He imparts to us the knowledge that as cleansed by the blood of the Saviour, we are without spot in the God ‘s sight.
  • He reveals to us the glory of Christ as presented in the scriptures.
  • By the Holy Spirit, the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.
  • He is the originator in us of all the thoughts and affections which respond to this love.
  • He gives us the consciousness of our union with Christ on high

But He is more than all this. “He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (1 Cor 6:17). This is not merely an imagination; it is a fact. The same Spirit abides in us, and we are united to Christ as members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. ‘By one Spirit are we all baptised into one body (1 Cor. 12:13). The Spirit is not only the power of this union, but He gives us the consciousness of it. Christ is the Head of the body, so each Christian is a member of it, united by the Holy Spirit. The Christian’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (See 1 Cor. 6:19), and believers as together as a whole, they form God’s temple and dwelling place (See 1 Cor. 3:16).

 

The Father

We must know the character of the Father in order to worship God ‘in spirit and in truth’ (John 4:24). God is a spirit: but it is as the Father” that He seeks worshippers.

  • To worship ‘in spirit’ is to worship according to the true nature of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.
  • To worship God ‘in truth’ is to worship Him according to the revelation which He has given of Himself.

This is in contrast to religious forms and ceremonies.

The Samaritans did not worship God in spirit or in truth. The Jews worshipped God in truth, according to their imperfect revelation but not in spirit. They did not know the gentle and loving name of ‘Father’. By contrast, we are in a position of freedom before a majestic God as the children of His love and sons by adoption. The Spirit, who is the spirit of adoption cries ‘Abba, Father.

The Christian, however simple, who understands the grace of God and has received the spirit of adoption, is entitled to enjoy all these privileges. Like a child, he or she does not reason things out, but knows, loves and enjoys its father’s love without describing it. This relationship is in Christ, and with Christ, He being ‘the first-born among many brethren’ (Rom 8:29). And we, who were formerly strangers, know that He is the only-begotten Son, the firstborn, the Eternal Son* of the Father, revealing His love to as He Himself knows it. [*]The feeblest Christian is therefore perfectly competent to worship.

  • We worship the God of glory, in whose presence we have confidence, not terror.
  • We worship the God of love and kindness, whose will it is that we should be perfectly happy in Him.
  • We worship our Father who blesses us with all spiritual blessing.
  • We worship our Father who knows all our present needs.
  • We worship Him for that which He is in Himself.
  • We adore God for that which He is to us, the children of His house for eternity.

But the effect of the presence of this ‘one Spirit’ goes much further. Not only does He give us the consciousness of being in Christ, He also gives us the consciousness of being ‘baptised into one body, (1 Cor. 12:13) – the body of Christ, and as such, ‘members one of another’ (See Eph 5:25). In the Church, which God has newly-created in Christ (the one new man), the redeemed worship in ‘the unity of the Spirit’. The Head has ascended up on high, in order that the members of the body may worship freely and joyfully before God, by the unction which is from Him.

 

Some practical Effects

God cannot admit sin into His presence, so only those who are washed in the blood of the Lamb, and who have received the Spirit, can draw near to God to worship Him. An unconverted man cannot please or worship God. He may pray for something and his prayer might be answered, God having tender compassion for him, as a poor sinner. However he does not yet know God, has not the Spirit, and is not washed in the blood of Christ. Therefore it is utterly impossible for him to worship God. If he thinks he can draw near to God, he is ignorant of what he is in himself, and of what the God is whom he thinks to serve. He does not have the Spirit, and is not of the body.

To enter into the sanctuary, we must be sanctified. Before entering, we might measure the value of the work of Christ by reference to our load of sin. But now, brought into communion with God, we taste the sweetness of His love, and value the work of Christ by the grace and love of God. Our consciences are set at liberty, free to draw near to God, by virtue of the efficacy of the work of Christ. We may be timid in drawing near, and need encouragement. But if we do not have a real knowledge of the efficacy of the work of Christ, we will be ill at ease in approaching God, because he will still have a guilty conscience.

Even if there are just two or three present, we can worship in common, because we are united in one body by the same Spirit. Each can say, ‘We’ in sincerity, when addressing God.

The two great elements of Christian worship are the presence of the Holy Spirit and the remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ. The Holy Spirit, who acts in the body, is the source and energy, of genuine worship. This is clearly established by 1 Corinthians 14: the assembly being formed as the body of Christ. The Spirit acts through spiritual men to express the love of the assembly. This is the way in which worship is rendered to God.

Our joy in the presence of God, worshipping Him in love is our eternal goal. Gifts will cease in heaven, and nobody will be ignorant or lazy. Worship will never cease.

 

The Value of the Cross

Instead of seeing the work of Christ as saved sinners, we contemplate its value according to God’s estimate – the greatness of Christ’s love for us. The death of Christ is of such value in God’s sight, as to constitute, so to speak, a new claim on the affections of His Father.  His confidence in God, devotedness, patience, love, obedience, submission and sacrifice united in the cross. It was for us He suffered all. Satan was overcome; death destroyed, the veil removed from before the presence of God, making us heirs who enjoy the love of God. This must lead us to worship. At the cross God was glorified, otherwise His glory could not have been fully displayed.

But we are not dazzled by the glory of the cross. Christ hung upon the cross for us. It is the expression of love stronger than death for us. He loved us to the end. In doing so, He undertook to render us happy in the presence of the Father. ‘I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also’ (John 14:3).   He said, ‘With desire, I have desired to eat this passover with you, before I suffer; for I will eat no more thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God’ (Luke 22:15-16). As the passover was Israel’s memorial of the deliverance out of Egypt, so the supper is the memorial, not only of our deliverance, but of His love.

If Jesus attaches value to our remembrance to Him and produces deep affection in us, we can understand how the Lord’s supper is the centre of our worship. In the supper, united in one body, we show forth the Jesus’ death ‘until he come’ (1 Cor 11:26).   We recall the act in which the Saviour has testified His love in the most powerful way. Other activities – hymns and thanksgivings are grouped around it. The worshipper is thereby reminded of that which is the most precious of all things in the sight of God — the death of His beloved Son. We enter with spiritual affection into the perfection His work. ‘He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him’ (John 6:56).

The peace-offering and the passover present the most vivid images of the true character of the Lord’s supper. The peace-offering was a feast following a sacrifice, the partakers being God, the priest who officiated, the priests, the worshipper, and those who were with him.   In the passover, Israel fed on the sacrifice, the blood of which was their safeguard against judgment. This expresses the full satisfaction of God in the sweet odour of the work of Christ. Thus God Himself has His part in the joy, so has Christ: His joy is in our joy.

 

The Spirit’s Service

The Holy Spirit is the source and power of all true Christian worship. The unity of the body formed by Him, and in which He acts, necessarily holds a prominent place in the worship. The interceding presence of the Holy Spirit produces the consciousness of this unity. ‘We, [being] many, are one loaf, one body; for we all partake of that one loaf’ (1 Cor 10:17 Darby). Jesus Himself is present in the midst, according to His promise. If the bread broken represents the broken body of Christ, the unity of the bread represents the unity of His spiritual body, embracing all the saints in love. We are united to them, wherever they may be, in the unity of the body of Christ. We have all the privileges which attach to it by reason of the love of Him who ‘nourishes and cherishes it’. Consequently, we have a sense of what we owe to God. We have received grace; now we desire to glorifying Him, expressing this in worship.

In the early days they broke bread in private houses, maybe daily. In Acts 20 it would appear that they broke bread on the first day of the week. It is clear from 1 Cor 10 that the supper was to be something special. They had been abusing it, and their lives reflected that. What sort of life should we be careful to lead in order to render suitable praise to God.

As there are two great subjects about which Christian worship is occupied, namely the love of God our Father, and the love of the Lord Jesus, seen in His work, and as Head of His body the Church. Those who give voice to worship will concentrate on different aspects. At times the Lord Jesus will be especially before the mind; at other times thoughts of the Father will be more present. The Holy Spirit alone can guide us in this; but the truthfulness and spirituality of worship will depend upon the state of those who compose the assembly. If the majority in the company are untaught and ‘babes in Christ’ then this will be reflected in what is said. Those with more experience depend on the Comforter — the Spirit of truth — for true united service to God, bringing in nourishment promoting spiritual growth. Nothing, however, is more simple or evident than the truth that the worship which is rendered should be the worship of all.

 

Hindrances

If there is evil in the company, or even in an individual, it will be felt in the service of worship. If a hypocrite is present, he will be a hindrance in the worship; but the unity will not be destroyed. If most have cultivated a delicacy of spiritual feeling, they will feel that the Holy Spirit has been grieved. If there is true spirituality and the Holy Spirit fills the assembly with His presence, evil of every kind is quickly discovered. God is a jealous God, and He is faithful. Fleshly pride loves to make much of a gift, claiming lordship over God’s heritage and arranging things humanly – this gets in the way of the free flow of worship. Likewise do narrow sectarian views.  Achan was discovered at the commencement of the history of Israel ; a single lie in Ananias came in in the beginning of the Church’s history – and what has happened since! May God make us humble, watchful, and true to Him with a sense of the efficacy of the work of Christ, in order, despite the failure, to render spiritual worship. Even with two or three gathered together in the name of Jesus, He is there as the joy and strength. The name of Jesus unites us.

There is another hindrance to worship. In Philippians 3:3 it says, ‘We are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.’ This is about the religion of the flesh, which is altogether as evil as its lusts, religiousness being one of them. Religion of the flesh does not tend to the glory of Jesus. It is occupied in good works, ethical conduct, outward piety and humility, talking of the love of God, but more of our love for God. In circumscision the flesh is cut off. We can judge these things if Christ is our all.  As in Deut 26, the worshipper professed aloud that it was God that had accomplished everything for him.

Another thing which marks carnal religion is that, it does not ‘seek those things which are above’ (Col 3:1). The soul that has truly learnt that he was dead in sins, and that the Saviour has come down and been made sin for him and has died and been raised up for him, knows in God’s sight just one sole thing – that God has placed His delight in Jesus.

We should not mingle carnal religion with that of the Spirit. The effort of the adversary, at the commencement of the Church, was, not to substitute the law and circumcision in the flesh, in place of Christ, but to add to it. Paul saw clearly, by the Spirit, that if this were admitted, everything would have been lost. Instead of being in Christ and happy in God’s presence by virtue of a completed work, man tries to find a way of making himself acceptable to God. May God grant us to have no confidence in the flesh, but to rejoice in Christ Jesus (See Phil 3:3).

 

Conclusion

Let us revert to the subject of collective worship. What a sweet and precious privilege it is to anticipate that which will be our eternal employ in heaven! There our worship will be perfect. There, all the Church, in its completeness, will be assembled to render worship in the midst of the general assembly on high. There, without distraction and without fear, worship will be the Church’s eternal joy in the perfect favour of God. What a privilege, even here below, to close the door for a moment upon all the distractions of this world, and by the Spirit to satisfy the desires of the heart in rendering to God the thanksgiving which He is worthy to receive, and which in His grace, He has breathed into our souls!

 

[*] There are those who might object to this expression. But I have no difficulty. He is Son; He is eternal. As Man he is that now. Scripture does not go into the relationship prior to the incarnation. See Heb 1:5, Acts 13:33 and Psalm 2:7.

Sosthenes

November 2015

For original see  On Worship

The Lord’s Day Service

So when we come together for the breaking of bread who should we thank? Who died for us? Who shed His blood? Whom are we remembering? – Jesus. Then I think it is best to address Him personally. He loves to hear us

bread-and-wineSome time ago I was talking to some Christian friends. The meeting that they had been going to closed, and they started to break bread at another Christian assembly nearby. They enjoyed the fellowship. The people there were committed (I know that because I know a few who go there), the gospel was preached, and in general they were well taught. But what upset them was the fact that the worship service on Lord’s Day mornings was limited to thanking the Father for His giving the Lord, and for His mercies. They did not even address the Lord Himself.

Admittedly they broke bread at the end of the meeting, whereas our friends were accustomed to breaking bread near the beginning, as we do at our meeting. We come together to break bread. We are to examine ourselves and then eat – that should be beforehand. So we should do it straight away (we just have a hymn to the Lord before doing so, to set us together). I know that in Troas Paul discoursed for hours beforehand, but I guess that was an exception. Paul was not a regular visitor!

So when we come together for the breaking of bread who should we thank? Who died for us? Who shed His blood? Whom are we remembering? – Jesus. Then I think it is best to address Him personally. He loves to hear us. Is it wrong to address the Father? A couple of years ago an elderly, and somewhat senile brother – but absolutely clear in the Lord’s things gave thanks to the Lord before the loaf and to the Father before the cup. That is what they did when he was young. We had a good meting. But I would not do that.

Then after the supper what? Is it not a time to express our love for God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

We can speak to the Lord about what He is, and what He has done – a completed work. He did it in view of the joy lying before Him (See Heb 2:12). We can enter into His joy. The first thing the Lord said after the resurrection was ‘Go tell my brethren’ (John 20:17). We can enjoy that relationship. Then He delights in His assembly. The marriage of the Lamb is future, but she is His wife now. And she can commune with Him.

His glory is in the praise of His Father. ‘The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.’ (John 4:23). Clearly the Father is the object of worship in the Service of praise, and that involves the Holy Spirit.

This brings me to the question of worship to the Spirit. Some have difficulty about it, as there is no direct reference to worshipping the Spirit. Scriptures like ‘Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it’ (Num 21:17) help. Also in Philippians ‘For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit’ (ch. 3:3). Darby says ‘To worship “in spirit” is to worship according to the true nature of God, and in the power of that communion which the Spirit of God gives.’(Collected Writings vol 7- Doctrinal 2 p100 ‘On Worship’). James Taylor Sr. said, ‘If we worship God we worship the Spirit. He has part in the Godhead, and thus it is very simple and very practical, but very true, that the blessed Spirit, as having part in the Godhead, is worshipped’(Ministry – Vol. 67 page 515). It has been said that if you have a best Friend here, surely you can say ‘thank you’ to Him.

Worship should be spontaneous, springing up by the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately we all know so many good phrases and it is easy to string them together forming a well turned out part. Which gives God the most pleasure – the erudite composition, or the simple ‘Thank You Lord’ from a sincere heart?

There has been much good ministry, leading to an orderly progression in the service. But the order is not the thing. There is no liturgy; there are no rules. After all, who is the Minister of the sanctuary? (See Heb 8:2)

PS I have refrained from using the expression’Holy communion’.  It is that, but the expression is often associated with book-read formality.

Sosthenes

October 2015

I Will Lift Up My Eyes to the Hills – Psalm 121

But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him (John 4:23).

 

A Song of degrees. 

1Psalm121I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

2My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.

3He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.

4Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

5The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.

6The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.

7The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.

8The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

 

It is Lord’s Day morning. Instead of being at the Lord’s Supper, I am sitting beside my bed in hospital, having had a routine prostrate operation. Hopefully, God willing I will be out today. Meanwhile my wife is at the meeting; she will be coming to see me afterwards.

So I spent a little time with the Lord, thanking Him for what He has done, rejoicing in His resurrection and ascension, praising Him for His glory as the Son of God, glad to be one of His brethren and in a vessel which is so precious to Him, His assembly or church, soon to be united to Him in glory. Then I thanked the Holy Spirit for His service, taking the things of our Lord and showing them to us, but worshipping Him too, as being God – no less than the Father and the Son. Then trough Christ we have access by the Spirit to the Father, who sought and found worshippers. I was able to thank the Father for the Son, our blessed Lord who has brought the many sons to glory – and just to think that through grace I am one of those worshippers! I missed being with the brethren, of course, but what a privilege it is to give God praise and worship even from a hospital.

Then I got out my iPad and looked for a ‘morning service’. I found a site where a preacher, an elderly American gentleman, spoke from Psalm 121: I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help (v.1). He prayed; he spoke of God’s goodness and the gospel and what Jesus had done and redemption was in His name. Then a woman sang ‘My Redeemer is faithful and true’. After that one would have expected the preacher to give the glory to God. Instead he read a series of letters from persons who had received blessing and ended with asking for money* to be sent to an address in South Dakota. What was the object of his preaching?

I don’t want to be critical. I am sure he loved the Lord and desired the blessing of souls. But surely worship is the object of the preaching. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him (John 4:23).

 

* Let’s face it. What were his costs? What are mine? Pretty well zero! You don’t need a studio/church; you don’t need professional broadcasting equipment; you don’t need trained singers and musicians. A home camera or video recorder, and a web-site or even You-tube are sufficient.

 

Sosthenes

January 2015