Category Archives: The Word

Understanding Paul

The apostle Peter wrote that the apostle Paul had written some things “hard to be understood” (2 Pt. 3:16). A friend of mine once observed that he found in Peter’s epistles some things hard to be understood as well.  I agree with my friend.  And I agree with Peter, too.  Paul has certainly written some things that are hard to understand.  For example, have you ever wondered why Paul, after saying we are dead with Christ (Col. 2:20, 3:3), exhorts us to mortify (put to death) our members that are upon the earth?  Why, if I am already dead with Christ… why do I need to put my members to death?

Let’s see if we can find out. Come with me for a ride in my new vehicle—a Heavenrod, Model BTS Traveller.  (The BTS, I am told, stands for Beyond Time and Space, and I’m sorry I can’t tell you how it works; I never was much for understanding what goes on under a hood.)  But anyway, please step inside.  Wait a minute, first I need to see your ID.  Okay, you’re a baptized believer.  Now that we’re in with seat belts buckled and the doors shut, I just press this button, and… lo and behold, immediately we are in Heaven!  Yes, I knew you’d find it amazing.

And what do we see now that we are here? Or rather, who do we  see?  Here is our Lord Jesus Christ seated on a great throne!   And we see that, although He was once dead (He shows us His hands and His feet), raised from the dead He dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him.  For, He died to the cause of death—sin—and now is alive forevermore unto God.  How amazing is that.  What is more (and this is even more amazing) we see that we too, having been baptized into Him, are as dead to sin and alive to God as He is.  We see, in fact, that we are entirely new creatures over whom the law of sin and death no longer reigns, new creatures in whom eternal life now reigns—His own eternal life.

There is more. This throne we see Jesus seated in…  we too are seated with Him, reigning with Him, even over all orders of angels whether dark or light.

You are awestruck, I know.   So am I.  Truly, He is a wonderful person, and this is truly a wonderful place!

But this is just a sneak preview; now we must go back to earth. No need to sigh, we don’t need to go back reluctantly.  For—the most amazing thing of all—God has made provision for us to live on this sin-broken earth in the very reality of Christ and Heaven that we have just visited.

That provision is a facet of the Spirit of God called faith.

What does it mean to live by faith?  It means walking in this earthly realm according to an invisible heavenly reality.  It means knowing by faith that what Christ accomplished in Himself is our salvation.  He died to sin?  In Him we are dead to sin.  He rose from the dead?  In Him we too are risen.  He is seated at the right hand of God in the heavenlies?  We too are seated in the heavenlies.  Although we do not see this yet (for, “we walk by faith, not by sight”) our walk of faith with the help of the Spirit here on earth is a walk of alignment with the heavenly reality that is in Christ.  By faith we seek, and are enabled, to conform to what is true in Him, are enabled to live the very life of Christ here on earth.  For, “The just shall live by faith.”

You mean living by faith is just a sort of “pretending” we do here on earth till some day in Heaven we enter into the reality?   No, that misses the mark.  Faith is an appropriation of the heavenly reality so that it is just as real here as there.

And since that is so, this reveals to us the nature of faith: to live by faith is to cease from our own strivings.  By faith, the rest of faith, we abide in a heavenly reality that has already been accomplished in Christ rather than by working toward this reality.  It is not by our own endeavours that we accomplish the death or the Life; it is by faith that we walk, God’s objective being to conform us fully to the image of His Son while here on earth so that as He is—dead to sin and alive to God, and therefore walking in love—so are we in this world.

And so, it is because we who have been baptized into Christ are dead to sin (Christ having died to sin) that we, by the Spirit, mortify our members which are upon the earth; it is because we are risen (Christ being risen) that we “seek those things which are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”  It is by the operation of faith—the faith of the operation of God—that we who are yet on earth in mortal flesh align ourselves with the heavenly reality.

Again in Romans Six Paul states the eternal fact that since Christ died to sin, we too are to reckon (account) ourselves “dead indeed unto sin but alive unto God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:11).  But then he goes on to say, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body…”  Here again, why, if I am dead to sin, must I refuse to allow sin to reign in my mortal body?  It is because, once again, God has made provision for the reality of what is in Christ at the right hand of God to be our experience while yet on earth in mortal flesh.   The Christian, the one who has been baptized into Christ, is free from sin the moment he is baptized into Christ.  For in Christ he is dead to sin.  “Being then made free from sin…” (Rom. 6:18).  And once having received the Spirit of the risen Christ, he is now enabled to obey a different Master—righteousness.  It is by faith that this is accomplished.  For, faith is an operation of the Spirit of God.  “Buried with Him in (the) baptism wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation (working) of God who hath raised Him from the dead” (Col. 2:12).

See what Paul is saying? Faith is the divine enablement, the operation of God, to walk according to the invisible (or unseen) reality of Christ—His death and resurrection and ascension—while yet in mortal flesh.  “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).

This is why Paul in another place said he pressed toward the mark, while yet in mortal flesh, if by any means he might attain to the resurrection from among the dead (Phil. 3:11).  He knew the resurrection was coming.  By faith he meant to appropriate it now.

“Not having my own righteousness, which is of the law,” says Paul in that same passage, “but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness of God by faith…” It is a ceasing from one’s own works, and, by faith, aligning with the truth of Christ, the truth as it is in Jesus.  The walk and warfare of faith in mortal flesh corresponds with the heavenly reality.

So this puts us in the place of needing to “work out our own salvation.” Not that we are not saved, on the contrary.   We are saved; therefore let us walk in that salvation, work it out, here and now.  It is the work of faith. Although our old man was crucified with Christ, it is necessary to walk in the Spirit by faith, and not in the flesh, in order to experience the fullness of that salvation.  If we walk in the flesh we alienate ourselves from what is ours in Christ.   We must walk in the Spirit, and not in the flesh, in order for the heavenly reality of His resurrection life to be our experience here in the earth.

…And the heavenly reality of His death as well.  Job in his misery longed for death.  “There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest.  There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor.  The small and the great are there, and the servant is free from his master” (Job 3.17-19).  Beautiful release.  But those in Christ need not wait for that day of release; baptized into the death of Christ they are already there; in the cross of Christ, who was crucified to the world, they too are dead to the world, and are at rest, and cannot be troubled by the wicked.  As A.W. Tozer once said, “The Christian’s grave is behind him.”

In other words, the reality of the powerful death of Christ and the beautiful life of Christ… it’s so elusive, who shall descend into the deep to bring that death up?  Or who shall ascend  into Heaven to bring that life down?  But that kind of travel is not necessary.

 The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart; that is, the word of faith that we proclaim…” (Rom. 10:8).

Paul is talking about the living word of the Gospel, which when it goes forth, enables the responsive ear to lay hold of what it hears and bring it nigh– right into the mouth and into the heart… where, since it is alive, it begins to grow, and grow, and grow.  And the fruit of this living word of faith is that when Christ our life Himself appears,  and we see Him as He is, we discover that our obedience to the word, the obedience of faith, has resulted in our being conformed to His image; we are just like Him.  For we have received the end of our faith—the salvation of our souls.

It’s Automatic

Last time we talked of Jesus urging His disciples, “If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.”  It’s a warning.  We are to take heed to our hearing.  Whether or not the ground of our heart brings forth the fruit our Lord is looking for depends on the quality of our hearing.  Do we take his word seriously—that shallow soil or weed-infested ground can hinder the seed from bearing fruit?  If our hearing is good, we lay that to heart.  We cooperate with the Divine Farmer, seeking His help to make sure our hearts are good ground with deep, fertile soil where nothing is growing but the Good Seed He planted.  In this kind of ground the seed will surely bring forth… an hundredfold.

And, as we see in what Jesus says next, our work in done when we present to the Lord this kind of soil.  The rest is up to Him—and to the Law of life in the seed He plants.  After exhorting His disciples to make sure they are hearing what He is saying, Jesus continues with this:

So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground;
And should sleep, and rise night and day,
And the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.
For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear (Mk. 4.26-28).

The emphasis in the original is, “How, he knoweth not.”  There is a mysterious process of life at work in the seed—the same process we mentioned in an earlier blog.

As thou knowest not what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child, even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all (Eccles. 11.5).

In the natural creation, it’s life that causes the child in the womb to grow.  It’s life that causes the seed to grow and bear fruit.  These are the inner workings of a law of life God set to work in nature when He created all things.

And God created all these things with this in mind:  their voice speaks to us of the wonder and beauty of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus in His parables drawn from nature is speaking of the Kingdom of God.  It is “the word of the Kingdom” that the sower sows, and, depending on the soil conditions, brings forth fruit.  And so, as we said, we have a part to play there.  He that hath an ear, let him hear.  We can seek to be good deep soil, and keep out the weeds.

But once the conditions are right, our job is done.  It’s no use the farmer standing anxiously over the ground as if so doing could help the seed along.  “The earth bringeth forth fruit of herself.”

This word in the Greek is automate (pronounced automatay).  Sound familiar?  I’m not much of a Greek scholar, but even I could tell what that word likely meant.  Here’s what a real Greek scholar (Kenneth Wuest) has to say about it.

The words of herself are the translation of automate which is made up of autos (self) and memaa (to desire eagerly).  The word means in its totality, “self-moved, spontaneously, without external aid, and also beyond external control, with a way and a will, so to speak, of its own that must be respected and waited for.”  We get our English word automatic from this Greek word automate.  There is only one other example of its use in the New Testament, where the gate opens to Peter of its own accord (Acts 12.10).  The earth, therefore, brings forth fruit automatically.  The nature of the soil, the weather, and the cultivation of the plant, all enter in.  But the secret of the growth is in the seed itself.

This is very encouraging to us, isn’t it.  The farmer doesn’t stand anxiously over the seed he planted.  He isn’t wringing his hands as to what will happen next.  He doesn’t stay up all night worrying.  He just goes about his daily routine, sleeping, rising, sleeping, rising… and… what’s this?  The ground that received the seed is bringing forth now!  The seed has yielded to a law of life that meant it first had to die… and now it is growing, growing, growing… “first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.”

So with the Kingdom of God that is growing in the earth right now, and in due time will be openly manifested.  There is a beautiful mystery at work that the hand of man has no part in—the mystery of the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, which is at work in those who believe.  We need to respect that working, and wait patiently for the results.  Something spontaneous–automatic– is happening while we wait, something that is working of its own accord as we rest in the Lord.  Having kept out the weeds, we only need to yield to the seed that has been sown, trusting the Law of the Spirit of life to bring forth the seed that was planted in abundant fruitfulness… to the praise and glory of God.

How’s Your Hearing?

Jesus has entered a boat and is speaking to the multitudes on the shore.  He speaks to them a parable about a sower who sows seed on various types of ground.  It’s all the same seed, nevertheless the ground it is sown in brings forth different results.

Some seed falls by the roadside where the ground is packed so hard it can’t even get in, and immediately the birds come and peck it all up.

Some seed falls on thin soil with rock underneath, and although it springs up quickly, when the sun gets hot it just as quickly dies because it isn’t deeply rooted.

Some falls on ground that looks good but is infested with the seeds of thorns, and when the thorns grow up, the plants growing from the good seed are choked out.

And some of the seed falls on fertile ground that yields fruit (I like that word yield here) “some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred” (Mk. 4.8).

At the end of the parable Jesus says to the multitude, “He that hath ears let him hear” (Mk. 4.9).

Luke has this more dramatically, telling us that Jesus cried out this warning.

And when he had said these things He cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Lk. 8.8).

In other words, let no one underestimate the eternal importance of what He has been saying!

After speaking this and other parables to the multitude, Jesus goes aside with his disciples and explains the parable.  He didn’t do this with the great multitude, at this point already realizing that most of them weren’t all that interested in what He had to say; they followed Him just for the signs and wonders and miracles.  Others were openly against Him, and followed along looking only for an opportunity to find fault.  But now he explains the parable to the disciples.  He has been talking of hearing the word, likening the hearers of the word to various types of ground.  We won’t enlarge on this here except to say that God intends the seed of the word in our lives—the word of the Kingdom of God—to bear abundant fruit, and depending on the condition of our heart this may or may not happen.  Hardness of heart, persecution, the cares of this life, the deceitfulness of riches… all these and the lusts of other things can cause a crop failure.  But the good and honest heart that endures to the end will bring forth the fruit God is looking for.

What we want to emphasize here is that the Lord rephrases to the disciples His earlier exhortation to the multitude.  After He has explained the parable to His disciples He directs these words to them:

If any man have ears to hear, let him hear (Mk. 4.23).

This is phrased a little differently than the first exhortation, and the thought seems to be that Jesus recognizes that, unlike many of those who were stone deaf to what He had been saying, His disciples have ears to hear.  The more accurate translation of this second exhortation is, “Since a person has ears to be hearing, let him be hearing” (Wuest Expanded Translation).  You mean, Lord, your disciples actually have ears to hear, and you still admonish them?

It’s a profound warning for us, then.  It’s possible to have ears—even to think we are hearing—and yet not be hearing very well.

Christ continues by saying:

Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given.
For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.

Christian, let us guard against dullness of hearing.  Hearing… yet not really hearing.  Hearing… yet it doesn’t really register because we are going about our lives in this world, and, with all the things that cry for our attention, the ear that was once attentive is no longer hearing the way it used to.

Or, perhaps unknowingly we have become presumptuous, over-familiar with spiritual things.  It’s something that can creep in so easily on the heart.  We hear and presume these spiritual words to be ours because of some special group or move we have been involved in, or some great church we go to.

Or, apart from any group or church we are involved in, we have given the inherent pride of our own heart lots of water and sunshine, and we are now oblivious to our deep and continual need to walk in humility and “tremble at His word.”  And so now the seed of the word falls on our ear… and we heard it as usual, but actually nothing happened.  We have ears, but we are not really hearing.  We have lost what young Samuel had when he responded trembling, “Speak, Lord, for your servant heareth.”

In other words, the Lord had Samuel’s full attention.

The Lord Jesus Christ says that with what measure we give our ears to hear Him, in this measure what He is saying shall be measured out to us.  If we give our ears but a little, that’s what is given to us in return—little.  If our hearing is dull, we won’t get much.  If our ears are keen, are sensitive, we will hear more—in fact shall be given more than we anticipated.

…Unto you that hear shall more be given.

Is it possible then, that the Lord has spoken, and, although we heard the words, and got a little, there was more we could have heard?  Apparently.  The Lord says that it is to those who have ears and actually hear, that it shall be given.

For he that hath, to him shall be given.

And then the solemn final warning.

And he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.

I don’t want to be in that category of the listener who the Lord says has ears but is actually going about his life not hearing what He is saying at all.  And suddenly I discover that what I thought I had… actually I did not have it, and it is taken from me completely now.

God’s Answer For The Famine Of The Word

We have been talking about the famine of hearing of the words of the Lord—words that the Lord Himself speaks, and therefore are living words that sustain us and give us the strength we need for our daily walk in this world.

That’s what bread is for—to strengthen man’s heart (Ps. 104.15).  And we need this daily.  It’s simply impossible to go through the day and meet its demands without the strength of the bread of life.  I know, as long as things are going okay and we are prospering nicely, it seems we can get along without this living Bread.  But the hour is at hand when many people—even many Christians—will suddenly see that their spiritual plates are empty, in fact have been empty for a long time.

Jesus Christ is Himself the bread of life.

I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on my shall never thirst (Jn. 6.25).

Jesus is not speaking here of a one-time thing—when I came to Him and was converted.  He is speaking of a continual coming to Him, and in doing so, discovering an unfailing supply for my daily need whatever that need is.  His promise is that “as are thy days so shall thy strength be” (Dt. 33.25).  In other words, there cannot be a day that proves too much to handle when we come to Him for the bread we need for this day.  This is the experience of many Christians who take their need for the living Bread seriously and come to Him expectantly day by day.

But let’s look at this in larger terms than the twenty-four hour day.  For we are now entering upon a very difficult day, and it is going to require great spiritual strength to get through it.

What provision does God have for this day now dawning?  Apart from a major spiritual revolution we face grievous spiritual famine in our western lands in spite of all the Bibles and Bible studies and Internet resources and weekly sermons by our favourite pastor.  All this, good as it is, was never meant to be the answer for the needs of the world around us.  What is God’s answer then?  Yes I know, Christ Himself.

For the bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven and giveth life unto the world (Jn. 6.33).

I am the living bread which came down from Heaven: if any man eat of this bread he shall live forever: and the bread which I shall give is my flesh which I shall give for the life of the world (Jn. 6.51).

His flesh?  This caused a strife among those listening.  “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”

Even His own disciples found this hard to comprehend.  They couldn’t imagine themselves eating His flesh.  Jesus answered their perplexity with another perplexity.

Doth this offend you?  What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where He was before?  It is the Spirit that quickeneth (that giveth life): the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are Spirit, and they are life (Jn. 6.62,63).

In other words, it wasn’t eating His physical body that Jesus had in mind.  “It is the Spirit that quickeneth.”  He would ascend into Heaven and by the Holy Spirit speak living words from Heaven, words which to partake of would be one and the same as eating His flesh and drinking His blood.

But there is something else here—a very important implication in Jesus’ statement that “it is the Spirit that quickeneth.”  In sending the Holy Spirit, Christ means you and I, ordinary Christians in the body of Christ, to become His very flesh, the bread that He gives for the life of the world.

For we being many are one bread (or, loaf) and one body; for we are all partakers of that One Bread (1 Cor. 10.12).

Partaking of this One Bread causes us ourselves to become vitally a part of that One Bread.  For, as the saying goes, you are what you eat.

And how is this accomplished—that we become this one loaf and one body?

For by one Spirit are ye all baptized into one body… (1 Cor. 12.13).

This is the implication of His words, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth…”  He is talking of the sending of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, by which, wonder of wonders, we are made one with Him who is in Heaven– are made one Loaf with Him, one Body.

Fellow Christian, we must be earnestly seeking this kind of intermingling and interaction with the Spirit of Christ—something that produces an entirely different kind of church, one in which every single member is a vital participant in the Bread of Life, and there is a very real sense of all having become One Loaf with Christ Himself.

And those in leadership must seek earnestly to give the Spirit of the Lord His liberty and lordship so He can bring this One Loaf into being– His answer for the spiritual hunger of the world.

We have many good pastors and teachers these days who can deliver a good word.  We are thankful for them.  We have many great ministries who through modern media feed multitudes of Christians all the world over with powerful messages. We are thankful for these as well, for they certainly meet a need.

But this will not meet the need of the day at hand.  God has something greater in mind.  In fact even now—can we not recognize this?—we are in a state of famine.  Is not this abundantly clear when we look at the needs of our world around us, first on the local level and then out further?  With all our present provision we are still in a state of famine.

And we will be in a state of famine until this One Loaf begins to appear.

It is this Loaf—the body of Christ—that the Lord has in mind for the day at hand, and is even now preparing.  It is this Loaf that He breaks in His hands to feed every need of the hungry.

This is the Bread that Christ gives for the life of the world.

This is the Loaf that finally brings to an end the famine of the words of the Lord.

Staying Alive In The Famine Of The Word

I’ve been seeking to pay closer attention to the larger context of Bible passages, and it paid off this morning when in a time of prayer I read Psalm 33.

I noticed that it starts out with a call to rejoice in the LORD, and to praise Him “on an instrument of ten strings.”  The number ten in Scripture usually signifies trouble and testing.  “Ye shall have tribulation ten days…” (Rev. 2.10).  Some people—like this psalmist—love to praise the Lord so much that even their troubles become an instrument on which they praise Him.  They say, “Give me that thing; I can make a tune on that!”

Then in verse four I noticed why the psalmist was rejoicing.

For the word of the LORD is right; and all His works are done in truth (in faithfulness).

The psalmist is rejoicing in the Lord and praising Him because of His Word.  In all His troubles he had something solid to stand on, something reliable, something faithful and sure in a fickle unstable unfriendly world.

Then he says this:

By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.

This is the verse that stood out for me this morning.  “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.”  Notice this—“the word of the LORD… the breath of His mouth.”  Have you ever tried to speak holding your breath?  It can’t be done.  The words you speak are carried by your breath.  The word of God by which He created the Heavens and all the host of them was a word from His mouth, a word borne by His breath—His Spirit.  It was a living creative word.  And so the psalmist continues:

Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.
For He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.

This is why the psalmist was rejoicing.  In the creation right before his eyes he had evidence that God’s word—the kind of word that His breath impels—is right.  What God says is done; what God commands stands fast.

Now the reason why I said it paid off to read the verses of this psalm in their larger context.  Toward the end of the psalm are these verses:

Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear Him, upon them that hope in His mercy;
To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.

Considering the context of the psalm, he is not talking about literal famine.  As grievous as that is in our world there is a greater more serious issue—the famine of hearing the words of the Lord.  For, “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Mt. 4.4).

It’s quite familiar these days, but let’s remind ourselves of that prophecy in Amos once again.

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD:
And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it (Amos 8.11,12).

We are in that famine right now, fellow Christian.  These days it’s very difficult to hear the kind of word that is a living word—the kind of word that is borne by the His Breath and proceedeth from His mouth—the kind of indispensible word we need this day for our daily bread.

But the psalmist rejoices.  He has the promise—and God’s word is right.

Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear Him, upon them that hope in His mercy;
To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.

“Behold,” he says.  Do we see this?  What a comfort to see this—His eye is upon them that fear Him, upon them that hope in His mercy.  He will deliver us from the state of death that so many around us live comfortably in—for the moment.  He will keep us alive in famine.

How does He do this?  As long as things are going okay in our lives it doesn’t seem all that important to be hearing a living word from God.    As long as we are prospering in peace we do quite nicely, thank you.  It doesn’t matter to us that we are not hearing from God.

But when things start to unravel–maybe we are not quite there yet, but we are going to be– and when people get desperate… and get thinking… and become aware they are out of touch with God, and run to the church on the corner and go away to look elsewhere (for sadly all too often His living word can’t be found in the church on the corner anymore) they will end up running here and there frantically to find a word from Him.

And will not find it.

Let this perilous neglect not be our testimony.  Let us be numbered among those who fear Him, who recognize continually our need for His lovingkindness and mercy—and seek Him earnestly today for the daily bread that keeps us alive.

We have the promise of the psalmist– who proclaims that the word of the Lord is right– that we shall find it.

Hearing The Living Words Of The Lord

Quaker apostle George Fox tells in his journal of the early years when he struggled continually with his sinful condition and could get no victory.  He sought counsel from various Christians, but time and again came away disappointed and empty.  Nothing they said could deal with his condition.  Then came the day when he heard a voice speaking to him and saying, “There is one who can speak to thy condition—even Christ Jesus.”  It was a life-changing word for Fox, for it was the kind of word that had quickening power in it.   “And when I heard it my heart did leap for joy.”  From this point on Fox walked in a realm of spiritual victory seldom seen in the church from that day to this.

Further back in church history is the story of Augustine who struggled to the point of despair over the lusts of the flesh.  One day he was sitting out in the garden of a friend weeping bitterly when he heard a child next door repeating over and over, “Take up and read, take up and read…”  It seemed strange to Augustine that a child at play would say such words. He got up and ran for the volume of the writings of Paul he had earlier been reading, and when he opened it his eyes fell on the words, “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof” (Rom. 13.13,14).  Immediately the shackles of his bondage fell from him. Augustine was familiar with these words; he had read them many times before.  But this time they went forth in the power of life that liberated him.

This does not, of course, vindicate the later teachings of Augustine that became foundational Roman Catholic doctrine.  But it certainly causes us to realize that there is a quality to the word of God that we simply cannot do without.  There is more to the word of God than the letter of Scripture.  In Hebrews we read that “the word of God is living, and powerful…”

The founder of the China Inland Mission Hudson Taylor spent many years trying to live the Christian life.  His experience was one of struggle and defeat spliced with times of short-lived victory.  He would begin his day with prayer, but the pressures and burdens and difficulties of life bore down on him.  All too often he found himself irritable with hard thoughts in his mind and unkind words in his mouth.  Taylor described this time in a letter to his sister.

To will was present with me, but how to perform I found not.   Then came the question, is there no rescue?  Must it be thus to the end—constant conflict, and too often defeat? …Instead of growing stronger I seemed to be getting weaker and to have less power against sin; and no wonder, for faith and hope were getting low.  I hated myself, I hated my sin, yet gained no strength against it… Sometimes there were seasons not only of peace but of joy in the Lord; but they were transitory, and at best there was a sad lack of power.

Taylor was very weary of this kind of Christian walk, and not long after this he received a letter from a friend which contained a sentence that transformed his life.  Here is his description of it.

When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter… was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed to me the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never known it before.  [He] wrote, ‘But how to get faith strengthened?  Not by striving after faith, but by resting in the faithful One.’

This was the beginning of a new walk for Hudson Taylor.  He had received an empowering revelation of the exchanged life.  It was no longer he who lived, but Christ who lived in Him.  Now instead of striving he rested in Christ, trusting that Christ in Him could and would meet every situation he faced.

The thing is, I read the same words and discover they don’t quite do in me what they did in Hudson Taylor.  What is the difference?  Simply this.  If it is a method or a formula we are seeking we seek in vain.  We too must hear that same living word.  The same God who spoke to Augustine and Fox and Hudson Taylor must speak to you and me.  We must hear for ourselves Him who is seated at the right hand of God and who speaks from the Throne the kind of living word that has quickening authority in it.  He bids us, “Abide in Me, and I in you.”  How can it happen?  Simply because He bids us, and the power of life in His word cements it to us.

I often think of Ezekiel’s experience.  He had seen the magnificent vision of the glory of the Lord, and upon seeing Him fell on his face.  Now he heard a voice of One speaking to him.   “And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee” (Ezek. 2.1).  Now notice the kind of word that the Lord spoke to Ezekiel.  “And the Spirit entered into me when He spake unto me and set me upon my feet…”  Oh to hear this kind of living word—the kind of word that has spiritual authority in it and stands us on our feet, the kind of word that ministers the Spirit into us.

That’s what the New Covenant is supposed to do—and does when it goes forth.  Our need for this is very great in this hour.  We have so much of “the word” available to us; here in western lands we have Bibles coming out our ears, and innumerable sermons are available to us in our churches and on the internet.  But where is that living new-covenant word that is a ministration of the Spirit?  In spite of all we have we are clearly in the days Amos prophesied of—the time of the famine of hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 8.11).  We have so much of the word, but where is the kind of word that when it goes forth causes the Spirit to enter into us—and into others when we open our own mouths to speak—with quickening power?

The Sword In The Shadow

One thing about the Internet is that it has brought into being an information overload.  There is an overwhelming ocean of information available.  We have been deluged with knowledge… and you pretty much need an “ark” to get through it all safely.  For, though it was never God’s intention, even Christian teachings end up becoming that—just more information.  There are thousands of websites hosted by Christians, thousands of messages, thousands of blogs like this one.  How much of it actually penetrates the heart in a way that changes us?  It can become a habit to not read things carefully and prayerfully—and selectively—with a prepared heart.  You just skim things quickly, and move on.

Let us be careful that our spiritual faculties don’t become dull with all this use.  That can happen.  I want to be watchful to not let that happen.  Here is why.

The other day I sensed the Spirit of the Lord reminding me again that He yet intends to speak forth a very powerful word.  And it is going to surprise many.  I was reminded of a passage in Isaiah.

Listen, O isles, unto Me; and hearken, ye peoples, from far; The LORD hath called Me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath He made mention of My name.
And He hath made My mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of His hand hath He hid Me, and made Me a polished shaft; in His quiver hath He hid Me;
And said unto Me, Thou art My Servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified (Isa. 49.1-3).

This passage is no doubt speaking of Christ Himself.  For it is Christ who has “the sharp sword with two edges” proceeding out of His mouth (Rev. 1.16, 2.12).  At the same time this is speaking of a corporate testimony:  “Thou art My Servant, O Israel…”  Israel is a corporate entity.  Yet here this corporate entity is spoken of in the singular.  “Thou art My Servant, O Israel…”  In the King James Version of the  Bible, thou is always the second person singular pronoun.

And so I think this is one of the places in the Old Testament where we see hidden the mystery of the corporate Man that God revealed to his apostles—particularly the apostle Paul—the mystery of Christ.  Paul wrote, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ” (1 Cor. 12.12).  He didn’t say, “so also is the body of Christ.”  He said, “so also is Christ.”  We then as members of the body of Christ are this sword, this mouth, that Christ greatly desires to speak out of.

One of the weapons of our spiritual armour is, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6.17).  It is not just the Bible.  It is “the Spirit’s sword, which is the word of God.”  It is the word that the Spirit of God speaks that is the sword of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But it is we who wield—actually become—this sword.

We are reminded of Gideon and his little band of three hundred.  “The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon…” they cried.  Not just the sword of Gideon. And not just the sword of the Lord either.  “The sword of the LORD and of Gideon.”  One sword!  The sword of the Lord and of Gideon and his little band of dedicated men who were one with Him.  It wrought utter havoc among the enemies of the people of God.

How little we have seen of this formidable, fearful, spiritual weapon.  How little our world about us has seen of it.  How little our enemies have tasted of it… though they dread it like nothing else.

We—and they—are yet going to see this terrible swift sword.

There is no more formidable weapon in the whole universe.

And it is going to go forth only from the mouths of those who have been hidden in the shadow of the hand of the Lord.

The hand speaks of the Lord’s dealings in our lives: His discipline, His chastening… His love… His covering, His protection… His own work.  “In the shadow of His hand hath He hid me…”  Others can’t see you there.  His shadow is over you… and He is working.  What is He doing?  You yourself may wonder at times.  Is He doing anything in my life?  You may wonder why you never amount to anything when others are out there in the light doing great things for God.  But as He keeps you hidden from view in the shadow of His hand He is molding your mouth, shaping your mouth, into a sharp sword with two edges.  You are learning not to speak your own words, but His.  You are learning that many times you have nothing to say.  His purpose in it is that you might become part of this corporate Servant in whom He is glorified.

Jesus said of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, “He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine, and shew (declare) unto you” (Jn. 16.15).  This is the commitment of the Holy Spirit—not to speak from Himself, but what He hears the Son of God saying (Jn. 16.13).

But when He speaks—He and the one in whom He abides—it is Christ Himself speaking.

What is the Lord Jesus Christ going to do with this sword?

First, He is going to purify His churches with it (Rev. 2.12).  It is a two-edged sword (a two-mouthed sword as the original has it: God’s mouth and our own mouth) that pierces to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  It is a sword—a word—with the very eyes of God in it, and lays all bare before Him (Heb. 4.12,13).  Only those in whom the hand of the Lord has wrought the heart of a priest are going to be entrusted with this kind of sword.

Then He is going to bathe this sword in Heaven (Isa. 34.5).  That is, He is going to cause principalities and powers in heavenly places, the rulers of the darkness of this age, to know its devastating power.

And He is going to visit the serpent, the dragon, in the midst of the sea with this sword (Isa. 27.1).

Very wondrous things, these, and fearsome.

A mouth that is a sword of light–  laser sharp… and just as penetrating.

A man or woman who, long-hidden in God’s quiver, is the arrow He selects and suddenly shoots into the heart of His enemy like a bolt of lightning.

Only those who continue to abide under the shadow of God’s hand will become this kind of weaponry.