When a see-it-all-in-a-glance tourist flitted through the priceless art treasures of the Louvre in Paris, she swept her critical eye over some of the world's greatest paintings. As she left the fabulous works of the great masters, she sniffed with disdain and said, "I don't think much of them." The gendarme replied coldly, "Madam, people do not judge these pictures; these pictures judge people." The newly-rich madame was stunned.
To the Word of God, this same application might be given: we do not judge the Word; the Word judges us. No wise man will dismiss the Book of the Lord with a wave of the hand. That there are some things hard to be understood within its covers, none will deny. On the other hand, he who will seek the mind of the Spirit will certainly have an unveiling of the truth that the Spirit himself has written. Though the seeker be a wayfaring man and unlearned, he need not err therein. The Bible is not just a series of puzzles to be deciphered. It has a chain of commandments to be obeyed.
Yet in explaining the truth, who is to say, "So far shalt thou go and no further"? What determines interpretation? Can Bible truth be rejected or conveniently ignored because it is overdemanding upon us morally and materially? To cut this whole matter down to the irreducible minimum, perhaps we should ask this question: "Can the Bible standard of Christianity be lived today?" Again and again, when some truth is discussed, one hears the statement: "But we are living in different days!" That is undeniably true. Do we then alter our interpretations of Bible truth to fit the days? Or should we alter our thinking to fit the Bible?
Just how do men come to spiritual maturity? It seems that failure to discover reality shows up to many only after they have spent their money for that which is not bread. So often their lament is "I wish I were younger and could start over again to serve the Lord." Certainly if money could now buy them out of their dilemma, they would give it. Some would barter all they have in order to get into the midstream of blessing and power. But because they have balked at the price God asked them to pay in Christian service, or because they were saved in life's later years, they have missed much of the blessing of earthly and eternal reward. Those lost years can never be reclaimed.
But here is what such people can do. In the first place, if they have not already received Christ in His fullness, they can repent of all sin, seek cleansing by the blood, and on the basis of Luke 11: 13 ask the Holy Spirit to fill and flood them with himself. After this blessed experience of enduement, the next step is a discipline by the Spirit in all matters pertaining to body and soul.
It must be true to say that God never takes two believers to spiritual heights by the same path. God made all trees, but look at the difference in them. John the apostle may have been as great a saint as Paul. But John's service for the Master, though it must have been of the same quality as Paul's, was not of the same quantity.
There is no doubt at all that in the natural realm some people pay a greater price to enter the kingdom of God than do others. I have a friend whose father is a millionaire. When this splendid young man graduated from a famous college in America, the father offered to set him up in any business the youth chose. Here was a wide open door of material success offered to a full-blooded, eager youth. But my friend turned down the gracious offer from his father, saying, "Dad, I would rather serve God as a pastor of a church than do anything else in the world."
Or again, I think of a boy who came to Cliff College, England, with a glowing testimony. There was not a shade of self-pity about him nor the slightest color of boasting. Here is what had happened: His father had been very fond of him, and they were very close. They had shared sports and many other activities. Then came the parting of the ways, for when the boy was wonderfully saved, the father, angry that the son would not stand with him in the way of sinners, offered an ultimatumquit religion or leave home. The son chose the latter, so the father dumped the boy's belongings outside the door and told him to go. The boy did just that, and did it in victory too.
When some people get saved, they have to give up cocktail-drinking friends, the country club, and the like. Some have to sell their shares in liquor investments. In ten thousand different ways, the Spirit begins to make claims upon His own. But then after He has tried them, they come forth as gold. If I could write another beatitude, it would be this: "Blessed is the man who does not argue with the Spirit." In dealing with God we ought not to have a "Why?"
Make no mistake about itsome people do just that: they argue with God. For if God says, "Do this," their first question is, "Why?" I thank God that my father taught me that when he said a thing, he meant it for my good; therefore the "why" was not needed. Many believers wonder why the Lord lets the devil go as far as he does in trying their faith. Peter might easily have wondered the same thing. For instance, Jesus had said to him, "Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat," and then added, "but I have prayed for thee." Yet on other occasions Christ had cast out devils. "Why," Peter might have asked, "did Christ not drive the Evil One back to the region from whence he came?"
We too might ask, "Why did God let Satan experiment with Peter? What if Peter had cracked under this pressure?" The answer must be that Peter needed this testing and that right there the Master's prayer for Peter would be so effective that he would come out in victory. If the question is asked, "Then why did Peter fail Jesus and deny Him?" I would say Peter failed because he got into the wrong company. He had to learn that in order to be made a rock he needed an upper-room experience. Moreover, the real work of the Master in Gethsemane was to pray himself through and this He did.
Just what is God's goal in my life, and what is He after in me? What vessel am I to be, and what service shall I render Him? Taking a long-distance view, what is God fashioning out of my life for the millennial age and eternity?
Outside my window the pipe in the cold, snowy earth is continually carrying life-giving water to the school, although it gets neither recognition nor appreciation for it. Of course we would talk plenty if this hard frost and keen winter broke that pipe! Obviously the ministry of the pipe is hidden. Shall I too serve in a hidden ministry?
We have such childish ideas of God. A little girl said to her mother that she learned a new chorus at Sunday school. "What is it?" Mother asked. The wee one replied, "God is still on the phone." That mentality is not the child's alone, for some of God's children have that idea too. To them God is not much more than a great lawyer to get them out of all kinds of trouble, or else He is a great banker with endless gifts of money to supply all their needs.
But suppose we think of God in another way. He is a great artist, a great sculptor, shaping my life to His own design with a view to fitting me into His eternal program and making me "meet for the Master's use" both here and hereafter. If this, then, is the Lord's purpose and if His plan will not guarantee escape from suffering and inconvenience, shall I not be wise enough to expect experiences of temptations in all their unnamed varieties? Behind all of them is a God who "worketh all things after the counsel of his will." In the words of a Scripture verse (often twisted for our own ends), God is working all things together for good to them that love Him.
Gold tried in a fire is of greater value than gold which still has a mixture of alloys. Gold that is shaped into an ornament has yet more value. Of still higher worth is gold purified, then shaped into a vessel, and finally beautifully engraved.
Even so in a believer's life. The cleansed Christianpurged of all self-interest, self-glory, self-esteem, self-pity, self-projectionis of great value to God. Yet there is a maturity beyond this, eloquent in some by its presence, but conspicuous in others by its absence. A head stuffed with theology or even stuffed with Bible verses is no substitute for the deep things of God worked out in us by the Spirit. Mrs. Wesley, mother of the famous Charles and John Wesley, loved to repeat to them, "There are two things to do about the gospelbelieve it and behave it." How right she was! How wise are they who both believe the gospel and behave it!
One of the lost arts these days is meditation. We ought to be heeding the much-needed admonition, "Take time to be holy."
There are few of us indeed who, after our regeneration experience, have not been tempted to turn back for one reason or another. Few if any of us have not turned back somewhere. To have known any experience of backsliding, however severe or mild, is to have known something retrograde in the spiritual life.
Thank God that spiritual digressions need not be repeated. But just as man cannot leap over his own shadow, neither can he live without temptation. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that ungodly people are also tempted, and that their capitulation in temptation is the explanation of wrecked homes, alcoholics, and jails.
In narrating the temptation of Jesus, Luke inserts a thought-provoking phrase of three words: "The devil departed from him for a season" (Luke 4:13). At a different time and in a different place and with different temptations, the battle would be renewed, and for the same prize. At all costs Satan tried to divert Christ from the cross.
Satan's target is the same for us. I do not think Satan has fears about most Christians who are in the sinning-repenting cycle. Yet he has real reason to fear the man who is "dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God." Such Christians will be tempted. But whatever the Christian's temptation, wherever it might be, whatever level it is on, there are definite guarantees from the Lord God omnipotent himself: first, that He "will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able." Second, that He "will with the temptation also make the way of escape"the way of prayer and the way of the cross of Christ. The hymn writer says,
"I need Thee every hour, Stay Thou near by; Temptations lose their power When Thou art nigh. "I need Thee, O I need Thee, Every hour I need Thee; O bless me now. my Saviour I come to Thee."
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon