Of all Scriptural principles, this may seem the simplest. Almost any brother or sister could expound it, could exhibit the beauty of the apostle’s simile and reveal the folly of any member being either puffed up with an impression of superior office or depressed by lack of qualification for any particular form of service. Eye and ear and foot and hand all have worthy parts to play. A well equipped mouth is of no service if it fails to arrive at the place where it is wanted. The feet have to bring it. It may follow therefore that an inferior mouth would render better service if only it could be supported by better feet.
The principle is recognized at least in theory, and it needs no further theoretical exposition. Is it recognized in practice? Do we realize the object "that there should be no schism in the body"? Have members "the same care one for another"? So that if "one member suffer, all the members suffer with it"?
The apostle truly presents a high ideal, but it is the ideal at which we must aim if we want to be saved. All that we are told of the judgment seat tends to show that the supreme test is in these matters. If we are repudiated then, it will be because we have failed to live the Truth and not for inability to understand it. We are told that some will be punished for errors committed without adequate knowledge of their Lord’s will; but assuredly it will not be because of inability to understand. It is our duty to know our Lord’s will. The necessary instruction is given to us, and if we fail to hear and understand it is almost certain that an obstinate self-deception is at the root of the difficulty. Such obdurate self-deception is deserving of stripes.
A simple test will probably prove to all who are able to receive instruction that they have far to go in pursuit of the apostolic ideal. Have we the same care one for another? If one member suffers do we all suffer in sympathy, or if one member is honored do we all rejoice? The natural tendency of the flesh is in the wrong direction under each of these headings. It is natural to have care for those who are the objects of our especial regard, and to be indifferent to all others. Of course, there will be special friendships in the Brotherhood, with different degrees and even different kinds of love. This is inevitable, and not at all incompatible with true fellowship. It is well to understand the distinction between the two words. Friendship is individual and peculiar. You cannot have ten thousand close friends. Fellowship is collective and comprehensive. You can be in true fellowship with any number. Friendship is at liberty to make selection of special companions. Just as a man in the Faith is at liberty to marry whom he will "only in the Lord", so is he at liberty to choose his special friends, assuming, of course, in both cases, that the desires are reciprocal and that the choice made is in harmony with the other commands of the Lord. Fellowship does not give us such liberty. We fellowship each other on the basis of the one Faith, and this may draw together men and women who are utterly different in taste and temperament. These differences will inevitably affect our choice of special friends but they ought not to affect our "care for one another" in the fellowship of the Gospel. The point can be illustrated without departure from the most ordinary experiences of life. If a brother or sister who is a very dear friend shows signs of weakness and a need for special help, we are ready to give any amount of care and attention to nurse the feeble one back to healthy faith. We would reprove any impatient critic, and find plenty of Scripture to assist our advocacy of gentle methods. What long-suffering, patience, gentleness and compassion are shown in our great example! How many injunctions there are to be kind, considerate and forbearing! But are we quite as ready to think of these passages if the straying sheep is one whose personality repels us? Are we as ready to sacrifice rest and comfort in trying to assist the unattractive wanderer?
The question whether brethren attract us or repel us personally does not in the least degree affect the truth of their being members of the One Body, and we ought to have the "same care one for another", because of our fellowship in the Truth, unaffected by the affinities and preferences which belong to human personality. This, of course, as with many other duties, is unnatural. The natural tendency is to be "partial" in judgment. We may be quite innocent of showing any undue respect to the man with a gold ring or disrespect toward the one who is poorly clad, yet we may fall into an exactly similar error on a different basis. A dear friend has erred. Well, we remember how forbearing our Lord was with sinners. We must restore him in the spirit of meekness. One who always repelled us has erred. We remember how Samuel treated Agag; we remember the apostle’s instructions to withdraw from those who are disorderly. We must be valiant for the Truth.
It is not suggested that all are under the sway of such fleshly instincts leading to such partiality of judgment. This, however, is the natural tendency, and it is questionable whether even those who are most conscious of the weakness have overcome it entirely. Has there never been a time when, in dealing with a friend, you have shown a consideration and patience far beyond anything you can muster for that other offender who does not interest you or possibly repels you? If there has been any such partiality, has it been an instance of weakness in dealing with a friend when you should have been valiant for the Truth? Or has it been harshness in dealing with another when you should have remembered the meekness and gentleness of Christ? True fellowship demands that we should have the same care one for another, "that there be no schism in the body". When we are least inclined to remember the rights and the interdependence of members, then we should try our hardest. When we are least attracted to members, then we have the best opportunity for increasing the duties of fellowship. Where our sympathies are least engaged, then we have the best opportunity of showing that we can be impartial, having the same care one for another.
It is easier for us to conform to the apostolic command under the second heading we have mentioned. We can suffer with those who suffer, more readily than we can rejoice with those who are honored. The suffering, however, has to be near and obvious, or we can easily forget and ignore it. We have heard of the millionaire who was so touched with the pitiful story of a caller that he said to a servant, "Send this poor fellow away at once, or I shall have no appetite for dinner." Perhaps there are many even in the Brotherhood who would find it too painful to regard the lives of their fellows very closely. A tragedy in the house of a next-door neighbor will cast a gloom over us when a far greater tragedy in a distant land hardly affects us at all. In the same way we shall be partial in our treatment of brethren near and distant unless we make a great effort to enlarge our sympathies.
When we are called upon to rejoice with the member who is highly honored, the task is still more difficult, especially for some natures. There are men who could sympathize with a friend’s misfortune and even make a generous effort to assist him; but they can never forgive him for being successful. The jealous feeling is well disguised, of course. They fear that the friend’s good fortune will turn his head and spoil his character, and we may rest assured that they will find ample confirmation of their worst fears, act how he may. Such people are capable of killing an old friend with pinpricks; shaking their heads all the while, and deploring his supposed weakness.
It is only too true that even brethren are often very unkind to each other without ever owning the fault or recognizing the tortuous self-deception which leads to the cruelty. The evils in the world are reproduced among those who are supposed to have come out from the world. It is easy to forget that there are any obligations in connection with the One Body or that if we sin against any of the members we sin against the Head. The One Body is formed on the basis of the One Faith; the essentials of which remain as in the days of the apostles. They do not change from year to year with the exigencies of human policy. Faith has been corrupted repeatedly both by the neglect of essentials and by the additions of human ideas. We must hold fast to the Word which is the only true light. It does not matter what men may think or say of us; what would the Lord have us do? That is the supreme test, and it is well for us to use it now in the day of opportunity and before the day of judgment. If we can really bend our spirits to "learn of him", we find at once that our duties are constructive and that they begin with the nurture and care of the One Body which is being developed on the basis of the One Faith.
Islip Collyer (Principles and Proverbs)
Have we ever carefully considered the experience of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ written about by the prophet Isaiah?
"But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities" (Isa 53:5).
The Hebrew word for "wounded" ("chalal") means to bore (as in wounded by boring). The word is found in Zechariah’s famous passage:
"And they shall look upon me whom they have pierced..." (Zech 12:10). So he was wounded, pierced, for our transgressions, literally, because we have "missed the mark" (chata).
The Hebrew word for "bruised" ("daka") means to crumble, collapse, crush, beat to pieces and break (in pieces), and hence, to bruise. So he was crushed very small for our "iniquities" ("avown"), for our perversity, our crookedness, because we have bent our wills away from God.
Now where is this iniquity?
The Bible says much of it (if not all) comes from the heart of man (Matt 12:3437), out of his mouth.
The apostle James, the brother (in the flesh) of the Lord Jesus, may have been guilty of this iniquity (Psa 69:8; John 7:5; Mark 3:21,31-35) for he says:
"The tongue is a fire (of destruction), a world of iniquity" (James 3:6-10).
"We admit, that we have not accepted the slanders and reproaches bestowed upon us with that gratitude the word inculcates. Born and educated in a country where character is more precious than gold, we have, in time past, felt like Ephraim unaccustomed to the yoke, when suffering under the galling imputations of reckless assailants. Experience, however, has taught us, that in this country, slander is the people’s broadsword with which they seek to slay the reputations of all who aim to serve them otherwise than in subservience to their passions, in the things of time or eternity. But, blessed be our foes in their basket and store. We thank them for their persecution, and opposition with which they have encountered us. But for these, we should have been, perhaps like them, ‘in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity’. Their course has compelled us to study more diligently than we might have done the Holy Scriptures, that we might be better able to give an answer to every one that should ask a reason of the Hope that is in us. Had they let us alone, it is probable we should have been in good repute indeed with them and their leaders: and might even have been teaching the same fables; which, however, would have deprived us of the pleasure of confessing our errors and mistakes, and of thus publicly renouncing and bidding them adieu" (John Thomas, The Faith in the Last Days, p. 42).
When Bro. Thomas had been the subject of some very hostile comments he penned the following prayer: "O, Lord God in heaven above, merciful and gracious Father, what can we render to Thee for Thy goodness? Thou hast appointed a day in which Thou wilt judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ! Blessed be Thy holy name. We shall all be judged before his tribunal and not man’s. Then the hidden things of men shall be brought to light, and their secret thought shall be unveiled, to their justification or reproof! Thou God seest us all, for all hearts are open before Thee! If Thou beholdest any thing in me displeasing in Thy sight, let me fall into Thy hands, and not into the hands of those who thirst for my destruction! Grant me patience to endure their unrighteousness, and by fidelity and perseverance to overcome the iniquity of their doings; and may the word of the truth concerning the hope of the glorious gospel of Jesus be established in these countries; and may those who now oppose it, in ignorance and unbelief, find mercy of Thee, repenting of their waywardness, and purifying their hearts by faith, that they may be accepted when the Lord comes! ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do’; and may we all at length find an abundant entrance into the kingdom of the future age, to the glory of the great Immanuel’s name! Amen! Amen!" (Ibid., p. 43).
My dear beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ, isn’t our Lord’s suffering on our behalf enough for us to show in a tangible way our gratitude and appreciation for what the emblems of the bread and the wine represent this morning?
"Who, when he was reviled (abused verbally) reviled not again (did not return the abuse); but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously" (1Pet 2:20-25).
Anthony Semple (Georgetown, Guyana)
"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching… always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (2Tim 4:1,2,5, RSV).
Paul urges Timothy to preach, convince, rebuke, and exhort, functions we readily associate with the work of an evangelist. Then the apostle adds supportive advice, perhaps not as obviously related to this role: to be unfailingly patient and steady, and to endure suffering. He is drawing attention to the unavoidable connection between theory and practice.
The validity of our own Bible exposition and the value of our exhortation will inevitably depend upon the degree to which the Word of God has shaped our thought processes and influenced our way of life. If we allow it, the transforming influence of Scripture will become apparent in the way we live. The exemplary life of a dedicated disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ offers expositional and exhortational value far in excess of any eloquent words uttered from any platform, or assembled in any article. Similarly, the way an ecclesia handles difficult situations is more revealing of its collective character than any list of doctrines to which its members give intellectual assent.
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly," says Paul, for this is the prerequisite to being able to "teach and admonish one another in all wisdom" (Col 2:16).
Here is one aspect of the ideal: we read the Bible attentively, thoughtfully, prayerfully, thankfully, every day. We read the whole Bible every year. In spiritual matters, we all fall short, but the closer we come to this ideal the more we will have to offer. If we neglect Scripture because we are always too busy with other matters, if we fall far short of this ideal, our expositions will be of little worth; our exhortations, little more than motivational fluff.
As we read, we need to keep asking questions like these:
As we read, we jot down the questions that occur to us. As we continue our Scriptural explorations, we remain alert for the answers suggested in other portions of the inspired record. We consider each passage in its context. We compare one part of Scripture with another. We allow the Bible to be its own interpreter.
Over the years, I have conducted a number of classes on "first principles". My approach has always been the same. I prepare a list of basic Bible topics. Well ahead of each class, everyone would know which topic or two would be addressed. In preparation for the class, it was the responsibility of each participant to identify a number of relevant Scriptures. In class, we would read each passage, in context, and discuss its implications. From all these passages, each participant would decide which ones to add to their own list. We each ended up with our own personally selected collection of Scriptures, classified by topic. My own is a handwritten set produced long before I started to use a computer. Those notes still provide the raw material needed for me to write or chat on any of those subjects.
In my current role as a professional speaker, I evidently have an impact on an audience, using my own original material. My stories, my questions, my photographs, my philosophy, my humor, my acronyms. But for an exhortation or a Bible talk, the speaker’s own original material is largely irrelevant.
A powerful Bible passage provides a far better opening for an exhortation than does any personal story. Another apt Scriptural quotation offers a better conclusion than does any eloquent rhetorical flourish of our own uninspired composition. And in between, the core material should consist of a series of carefully selected Bible passages, arranged in an appropriate sequence. The speaker’s notes should provide reminders of the points to be drawn out of the divine text.
The role of the exhorter, the expositor, is to draw attention to the message of the Word of God, to point out precisely what each passage is saying, the way it relates to the context and to other Scriptures, and how its lessons and principles should be applied in our own lives.
Certainly, we should offer our own insights into Scripture, but such insights come not from developing our own thoughts and ideas, but from assembling and pondering the pertinent Bible passages. The role does not involve putting across a message we have dreamed up ourselves, punctuated by a few Bible verses that might appear to back up the opinions we wish to convey.
The more beneficial, Bible-based technique is not complicated. All it takes is the diligent study of the Scriptures that flows from the commitment of dedicated discipleship.
"And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:32).
Philip Jones (Calgary, AB)
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