Jacob at Peniel

“And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved.”  Gen. 32:30

Jacob – a more colorful character in all of Scripture there could not be! Contending with his brother before he was born, clutching his brother’s heel as he was born; conniving, cheating, and running most of his life. What a history and what a life! And yet, when we come to Hebrews 11:21, we read that Jacob as an old man, “worshipped, leaning upon his staff”.  Like many believers, God had faithfully seen this patriarch through many snares and pitfalls of personal experience. But how did He do it? How does the Lord do it with any of us? The account of Jacob’s experience at Peniel in Genesis 32 provides the clue and the paints the backdrop to answer this all-important question.

A Rough Start

As a twin, Jacob seemed destined for conflict from the start. His rambunctious personality was evident even before he was born. Rebekah his mother sensed the struggle between the two brothers while yet in her womb. Mothers seem to know the tendencies of their children from their earliest days and Rebekah was no exception. Jacob was rightly called a supplanter and it does not take long in the biblical account that this part of his character was clearly manifested as he bargained for the birthright and stole his brother’s blessing, Gen. 25, 27. Advised by his mother to make a run for it to avoid his brother’s wrath (Gen. 27:43-44), Jacob intended to stay with his uncle Laban for only a “few days”, a plan that turned into years. It was while en route that he had a dramatic encounter with God, Gen. 28:10-22. His elementary understanding of the principles of faith was expanded when he had a vivid dream of angels ascending and descending upon a ladder which had been set up on earth and reached to heaven. It would turn out to be the start of a spiritual journey for this man whose hard ways were symbolized by the rock that he put at his head as he lay down to sleep. It is a wonderful picture of the salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ who meets people at their point of need and is Himself the “ladder” set up on earth that reaches to heaven. He is the means of divine communication and is the only avenue for sinful man to connect with God, John 1:51. The promises given to Jacob (v. 15) have their spiritual parallel for the NT believer. It highlights the faithfulness of God and the assurance that He will patiently and faithfully keep everyone who belongs to the “house of God”, (Phil. 1:6; 2 Tim. 1:10; Heb. 10:21). What God promised to do He did throughout Jacob’s sojourn even during the low points (Gen. 31:5; 7) right up to the end of his life, (Heb. 21) as He will do with all who know and love Him.

The Plot Thickens

Despite these assurances however, the attitude of Jacob was far from perfect. Looking out for His own interests, he makes a self-motivated vow to “seal the deal” at Bethel. To his credit, he establishes and anoints a pillar, an indication that he apprehended the importance of the spiritual life, though his understanding of its privileges and priorities were incomplete and carnal at best. But God is gracious and had great things in store for this man, as He does for us! Jacob promises to give the Lord a tenth of his money, provided that God would take care of him and bring him back, as if the Almighty needed his money!  How much like us, who so often are looking more to get than to give. It is the slanted perspective of someone young in the faith who has a long way to go in the school of God. That school with all its difficulties and disciplines was something that Jacob had not yet experienced, but would in time. Despite Jacob’s growing family and his success in business (Gen. 29-31), the life of Jacob for the most part was devoid of any vital testimony for the Lord. Like many Christians, he was knowledgeable of only the basics of the faith and had not progressed beyond a certain level spiritually. God had called him back to Bethel, the place of his spiritual beginnings, (Gen. 31:13) but that return (both practically and spiritually) had not yet occurred. Peniel would become the place in which Jacob would “turn around” would become the defining event in spiritual life.

Jacob’s Defining Moment

Nearly twenty years later, Jacob was still the object of his brother’s scorn. The events of previous years undoubtedly festered and garnered resentment in the mind of Esau. When Jacob came near Edom, it was no surprise that Jacob’s mind was already at work to effect a strategy of self-preservation.  God was still present in his life (Gen. 32:1-2), nevertheless Jacob put together a plan followed by a prayer—vintage Jacob running ahead of the Lord and asking Him to bless his self-driven efforts. How hard it is to die to self and to cast ourselves fully upon the Lord! Yet anyone who has been in similar circumstances understands how pride and self are often the last pillars to fall. His own “me first” attitude was further evidenced when he sent his family over the brook Jabbok, where he remained by  himself (vv. 21-24). It was at this juncture that the Lord began to work in a special way in Jacob’s life. God had already been at work in his life for a long time, first at Bethel and in the years that followed. But God had called him back to Bethel where he had first acknowledged the Lord and priorities of the life of faith. But Jacob, whose strength was more in his legs than his faith always ran from one problem to the next—to every place but Bethel.   

It was while Jacob was all alone at Peniel that the Angel of the Lord, an OT appearance of Christ wrestled with him all night. Often the greatest work that the Lord does in a believer’s life when they are all alone under dire circumstances. The condition was bleak: it was night and Jacob was by himself with nowhere to turn. It was a perfect situation for the Lord to work and demonstrate the truth of His promises. It is also intriguing to note that the Angel of the Lord initiated the wrestling match with Jacob. God had desired change in Jacob’s life all along, but to this point it was minimal on Jacob’s part. Now the Lord was taking further action to effect a deeper change in his life. It occurred after a long struggle that lasted all night. It was not until the Angel of the Lord was successful in getting Jacob to cling to Him and begging to be blessed that this transformation took place. What God had wanted in Jacob (and desires for us as well) was now happening. He had gotten him to the point where he was “close” to the Lord and not relying in his own strength. This same Angel of the Lord that slew 185,000 Assyrians in a single night (2 Kings 19:35) was patiently working to gain another type of victory in the heart of this heir of faith. Touching the hollow of his thigh, He aimed at his strength, making him weak but in the process helping him to prevail. And all it took was a “touch”!  It is a key principle in the school of God as 2 Corinthians 12:9 reminds us of the words of the Lord – “My strength is made perfect in weakness”.  How can we not refrain from declaring: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”, Rom. 11:33?

The Ways of God                 

The scene afterwards of Jacob limping as he headed over the brook Jabbok to face up to his brother Esau is a poignant one indeed. Here was a man who had gloried in his ability to keep one step ahead of his problems, but who had been subdued by the hand of the Lord and made to sense his own frailty before God. What a sight it was – a new walk, limping instead of running; a new direction, heading toward his problems and not away from them; a new name, Israel – “prince with God”; and a new purpose, reconciliation with his brother. What a change had taken place in this man’s life! It was all part of the process of Jacob becoming the person that God wanted him to be and one step closer to getting back to Bethel, Gen. 35.

In many ways, the life of Jacob is a composite picture of God’s work in the life of the Christian. It is certainly a portrait in miniature of God’s faithful and patient dealing with the nation of Israel as He will eventually bring them around to the point of submission, Zech. 12:10. Perhaps the biggest lesson however, is that God’s words and promises are true and He works in our lives, especially in our desperation to bring about significant change in our lives. May that be true for us as well.

The Requests and Bequests of Our Great High Priest

“And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith”  – Heb. 10:21-22

John 13-17 is arguably one of the most sublime passages in the entire NT.  It is that portion of Scripture that contains the Upper Room discourse of the Lord Jesus—a discourse found in no other Gospel account. It is the tender farewell of a loving Savior as He prepares to return to His Father in Heaven. Directed toward His eleven disciples, it reveals a growing intimacy to those He now calls “friends” (15:15) as He unfolds many of the great truths of the Christian faith later developed in the NT epistles. The scene marks the conclusion of His earthly ministry that would eventually culminate the following day when He would lay down His life as a sacrifice for sin, validated by His resurrection three days later. Truly, having loved His own that were in the world He would love them to the fullest extent–unto the end. (13:1)

The Upper Room Discourse

The farewell ministry of the Savior commences in John 13. There He exemplifies the pattern that should characterize all believers when He humbly kneels and washes His disciple’s feet. It is the display before the discourse. Through this symbolic action, our Lord emphasizes not only to His disciples but to us the need for daily cleansing from sin and the self-abasing attitude that should characterize our service to others. What gracious teaching and what a great example! Then in chapter 14, He highlights what He would also do for us—prepare a place (v. 3), answer prayer (v. 14), and send a Paraclete—the Holy Spirit (v. 16) to comfort and guide us during His absence. All these things emphasize what He would do for us.  But in Chapter 15, He underscores what we should do for Him, namely to be a witness in the world and to bear fruit—much fruit—so that the Father is glorified (15:8).  The discourse crescendos in Chapter 16 as the Lord enlarges upon the ministry of the Holy Spirit, in particular His work toward the world (16:7-11) and toward His own (16:12-15). His teaching has become a deepening and widening channel of truth.  But nowhere are the depths of these truths more keenly sensed than with the words contained in chapter 17, commonly known as our Lord’s High Priestly prayer.

The Intercession of Our Great High Priest

Undoubtedly, John 17 is the apogee of the Lord’s personal ministry to His own occurring on the night before His crucifixion. On this unique occasion, they would have the inestimable privilege of hearing Him passionately pray to the Father on their behalf.  Embodied in that prayer are some of the richest themes in the NT; themes such as election, sanctification, and glorification.  Typically, this chapter depicts the final step in the order of approach to God as portrayed in the service of the OT Tabernacle. Having had His death pictured through His anointing in John 12, and having washed His disciple’s feet in John 13, the Lord then instructs them on a number of profound truths in John 14-16. Respectively, these actions represent the altar, the laver, and the Holy Place in the order of their placement in the Tabernacle.  Now in John 17, He takes them figuratively into the Holiest of All, the very presence of God where as our Great High Priest He intercedes exclusively for the heirs of salvation. It is yet another example of the many offices of our wonderful Savior and accentuates the focus and faithful execution of that office in intercessory ministry.

The Requests of Our Great High Priest

As our Intercessor, the Lord presents seven petitions to the Father: two for Himself (vv. 1-5); two for the disciples (vv. 6-19); and three are for those who would afterwards believe on His Name (vv. 20-26).  His initial request is for the Father to glorify Him so that He would consequently glorify the Father (v. 1).  Indeed that is what transpired at Calvary when He went submissively with the Father to the place of sacrifice just as Isaac did with his father in Gen. 22.  To cry out “Forgive them, they know not what they do…” undoubtedly brought glory to the Father and an immediate answer to His first request. The second one, that the Father would restore Him to His pre-incarnate glory (v. 5) was also be answered soon, just over forty days later when He ascended from Mount Olivet. (Acts 1). These two requests–for His glorification at the Cross and for His restoration to His pre-existent glory–were both answered in short order.

The next two requests dealt with the disciple’s preservation (v. 11) and sanctification (v. 17).  Repeatedly, the Lord referred all believers as having being given to Him (vv. 6, 9, 11, 12, 24). Each believer is in fact, a gift from the Father to the Son.  In v. 11, He entreats: “Keep through Thine own Name those whom Thou hast given Me”.  What greater assurance could any of us have in knowing that the security of our salvation does not depend upon our own abilities to “keep the faith”, but rather in being kept as both the object of the Lord’s prayer and the Father’s power (1 Peter 1:5)?  Further, knowing the deceptive and destructive wiles of the devil, the Lord adds to our assurance by including a plea for our spiritual protection from the evil one (v. 15).  In the same way as He prayed for Peter, He prays for us that our faith fail not (Luke 22:32).  Likewise, He also prays for our sanctification. His petition is: “Sanctify them through Thy truth, Thy word is Truth (v. 17).  It is both the substance and source of our walk with Him—separation from the world and direction from the Word. It comes about as we diligently study the Scriptures and apply them practically in our daily lives. Positionally, these two requests will always be answered since every believer is sanctified by God and preserved in Jesus Christ (Jude 1).  Practically, we will sense the reality of these truths as we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word.      

The final set of petitions is recorded in vv. 20-26. Their focus is upon our unification (v. 21), evangelization (v. 22), and consummation (v. 24).  His prayer is that we would be one, just as the Father and the Son are One. Congregations by the scores and individual Christians everywhere need to be reminded of this significant request of our Savior!  Doctrinal integrity is a must, but so is the putting away of petty disagreements and personality differences if unity is to occur. The apostolic Church was known both for their steadfastness in the truth and their love for each other. There was a cohesion then that desperately needs to be exhibited today. When that occurs, we can be sure the difficult task of world evangelization will be helped in some measure. Never mind the assessment of the church growth “gurus”, the Savior’s assessment is that unification among believers has to happen if ever the world is going to respond positively to the truth of the Gospel (vv. 21, 23). The Lord beautifully concludes this masterpiece of prayer by stating His ultimate desire that they would be with Him where He is, so that they would behold His glory—a prayer that is answered every time a believer in Christ leaves this world and called Home to heaven.    

The Bequests of Our Great High Priest

Not only does this chapter contain the requests of our Great High Priest, but it also cites a number of His bequests—those things that He has left us as part of our spiritual inheritance. Eternal life based on the proper understanding of the true God and His Son is the first item identified as the gift of the Savior to us (v. 3). Another is the manifestation of the Father’s name (v. 6, 26).  This is the clear conception of the true God that He transmitted to us through His ministry on earth (2 Cor. 4:6). Just before this He stated to Philip, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9).  Further, He has given us the words of the Father (v. 8, 14), conveying eternal truths from the throne room of heaven which contradicted the doctrines of men. And lastly from this passage, He has bequeathed to us His joy (v. 13) and His glory (v. 22); the joy of fellowship with the Father and His glory that radiates through us when we are abiding in Him.         

The High Priestly prayer of our Lord Jesus is a spiritual treasure trove of incalculable worth. To mediate upon these glorious requests of our loving Savior and what He has provided for us through His intercessory work will not only lift our hearts in grateful adoration, but strengthen our resolve to live whole-heartedly for the One who loved us and gave Himself for us.     

The Simplicity That is in Christ

‘But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.’ 2 Corinthians 11. 3

Simplicity in the gospel

One of the outstanding aspects of the gospel is its simplicity. To understand that salvation is simply a matter of acknowledging our need of Christ and looking to Him through faith alone to remove the penalty of sin and to make us citizens of Heaven is nothing short of amazing. Well can we sing the words of that enduring hymn, ‘Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!’ Indeed it is amazing grace and the heart that is fully occupied with the Lord Jesus and His gracious work toward us will never tire of singing those glorious strains. It truly is ‘love divine, all loves excelling’.  How grateful we are for our salvation and what a debt we owe!  His love has been shed abroad in our hearts so that it can be shed abroad from our hearts. It fills us with praise and adoration making us instant in season to proclaim the gospel to all around so that they too can enter into the same love and appreciation for the Saviour.

We do not rely on our own wisdom or elaborate explanation to win people to Christ, but strive to be like Paul who confessed to the Corinthians. ‘And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God, 1 Cor. 2. 1. False teachers had attempted to corrupt their thinking using strategies of philosophy and dialectics and so we should be on guard lest our thinking and preaching is also corrupted through reliance upon our own wisdom and strength. The gospel does not need to be propped up, nor does it need to rely upon our powers of persuasion or cleverly-packaged programming, but rather on the plain, unadulterated Word of God. We should preach with this in mind and leave the results with God.

Apostolic example

The apostles and other servants of the Lord did so; we should do the same. When the Apostle Paul travelled to Athens and stood on Mars Hill before an antagonistic crowd, Acts 17, he unabashedly presented the Person of the Christ and the exclusivity of the gospel as the only means of salvation. In the midst of rampant idolatry, he boldly proclaimed, ‘Him declare I unto you’, v. 23. It was a simple message that stood in contrast to the various religious and philosophical sophistries that resided atop the Areopagus and nearby vicinity. He did not map out a ‘seeker-sensitive’ strategy before he preached but instead, swung the gospel hammer and broke through stony hearts to the glory of God, Jer. 23. 29. We would do well to do the same.

Simplicity in worship

Not only is it important to emphasize the simplicity of the gospel in our preaching, but we should stress it in our worship as well. We should be like that leper in Luke chapter 17 who being healed of his dread disease, rushed back to thank the Lord for the miraculous work that God had done in his life. We too have been healed of the dreadful disease of sin and should return to give Him thanks regularly. The early disciples worshiped together on a weekly basis according to Acts 20 verse 7 and were occupied with but one Person-the Lord Jesus. Boldness was also a recognized result of being with Jesus and people will recognize that we too have been with Jesus as we witness for Him, Acts 4. 13. Moses face was radiant after being in the presence of the Lord (Ex. 34. 29) and we will be radiant as we spend time in the Lord’s presence.

Worship is not about performing, but rather about prostrating ourselves in the sacrifice of praise. When the Old Testament priests entered the Tabernacle to worship the Lord they saw themselves in the mirrors that made up the base of the brazen altar Exod. 38. 8. When we come to worship we cannot help but ‘see’ ourselves in the light of gospel truth-what we were and what we are now in Christ. Amazingly, we are what we are now despite of what we were then. Without reservation we can say, ‘We love Him, because He first loved us’.

Worship is always Christ centered

Not only do we love Him, but we look to Him because He is our Shepherd and we daily need His help and guidance. We also live for Him because we know that there are others who are watching our lives closely and could ask us at any time about the hope that lies within us, 1 Peter 3. 15. We love Him and look to Him and live for Him and therefore it makes perfect sense that our gatherings should emphasize Him and not allow anything to dilute or distract from that emphasis. There is nothing that thrills our souls more than when we set our affections and focus our attention on the Lord. We are not to be those that are taken up with religious trappings–ceremonies and rituals and traditions of man, but rather we are taken up with Christ. Like Simeon of old who upon entering the temple where the Lord Jesus was being presented as a little child, embraced Him and blessed Him proclaiming, ‘Mine eyes have seen thy salvation’ Luke 2. 25-35. Simeon’s actions underscore the truth that salvation and heart-felt worship is not centered in a place or in performance, but in a Person.

First experiences of Christian simplicity

When I first entered through the doors years ago where a company of Christians were meeting solely in the Lord’s Name and gathered to worship Him, one of the first things that stood out to me was the simplicity of the meeting. There were no stained glass windows, no relics, no icons, no special titles recognized, no priestly vestments worn by those who addressed the audience, no candles, and no religious or cryptic-looking symbols on the wall. In many respects it was a regular looking room. There was a verse on the wall however which read. ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His begotten only Son…’ Coming from an unsaved background and not yet a believer, these words were easy to understand and together with the simplicity of the meeting became far less intimidating than I had supposed it would be when I first walked through the doors.

What was also unusual to me was that there were no offerings taken. I kept looking around to try to figure out who was in charge but no one appeared to be dressed differently or the leader above the rest. When the speaker got up to address the audience, he spoke in such a clear and simple way that I understood completely what he was saying, even though I knew nothing about the Bible. It was as though he was talking directly to me. As he spoke of Christ, tears trickled down his cheeks, though he remained calm and dignified. His voice did not quiver nor was there any histrionics in his manner. I had never heard nor seen such a thing in my religious life before and so it made quite an impression on me. No one cornered me as I left; but on the other hand, they did not have to since I was planning to return anyway. Like John Wesley, my heart was also ‘strangely warmed’. One thing was sure; more was ‘said’ by what I saw than by what I heard. That was my first experience of this kind of meeting and its simplicity truly made a difference to me.

As our world becomes more technologically advanced and we are ‘wowed’ at every turn by new and eye-popping innovations, there will always be subtle pressure upon the churches to borrow from worldly sources to make the gospel message more impressive and less offensive. The same pressure will demand to make the Christian life more palatable to them to the unbeliever in order to attract them to it. But what will speak more powerfully to the all around us will be ‘a changed life’ as the result of the simplicity that is in the gospel of Christ. This is what will always need to be protected. It will be demonstrated by a genuine relationship with the Lord Jesus, adorned not by ecclesiastical traditions, but by a transparent life declared in the simplicity of worship and the plain declaration of God’s Word and His great love for the entire world.

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9

It is in this verse that the apostle Paul summarizes the salvation work of our Lord Jesus. The One who is pictured elsewhere in Scripture as the nobleman in Luke 19, the great man of wealth in Ruth 2, and referred to as the Heir of all things in Heb 1, is also the One who willingly gave up the blessings of heaven so that we might be “rich” from a spiritual standpoint. As such, He did not count the glories of His position a thing to be clutched to but instead gave them up so that we through His poverty might be “rich”. And rich we are! Because of this wonderful grace which was shed on us abundantly in Jesus Christ (Titus 3:6), we are like Rebekah, who came into a vast wealth by nature of her relationship with Isaac, Gen. 24. In the same way, we too have become rich as heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, Rom. 8:17. We have obtained an inheritance (Eph. 1:10) and likewise are being led across the vast wilderness of this world by the Unnamed Servant who takes no glory for Himself, but glorifies the Master. Eventually, we too will come face to face with the One we love, though we have not seen Him and will at that time enter more fully into our inheritance, 1 Peter 1:4. No wonder it is called “amazing grace”!

Because of this selfless example, Paul goes on to encourage the Corinthians to exhibit the same attitude in their lives in the grace of giving. He calls it a grace because it is bestowed by the Spirit of God who causes this activity to occur for benefit of others. Just as the Macedonian believers demonstrated this grace to the saints in Jerusalem (vv. 1-2), he exhorts the Corinthians to follow the example of the Lord Jesus, the epitome of grace and glory. He urges them to adopt the same attitude and put aside their own comforts and interests to help meet the practical needs of fellow believers. By doing so, they are exhibiting the same type grace that the Lord Jesus demonstrated in His salvation work.

The grace of our Lord Jesus is evident not only in His salvation work but in other ways as well. It characterized His earthly then and is comprises His intercessory ministry from heaven now. In His earthly ministry, it was expressed this grace through words. There must have been something in the tone of His voice that communicated kindness and compassion as well as authority. Certainly, that grace must have been present when He said to the woman taken in adultery, “Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more”, John 8:11. It was there when He read a portion of Isaiah 6 in the synagogue when He dramatically paused mid-sentence, causing the people wonder at the graciousness of the words that proceeded from His lips, Luke 4:22. On another occasion, the officers of the people openly declared “never a man spake like this man”, John 7:46. They had to admit even though they did not believe in Him, His words had weight and an air of authority to them. In this way, Psalm 45:2 was prophetically fulfilled when David declared centuries before: “Grace is poured into thy lips”. It also answers to the voice of the bride to her Bridegroom in Song 5:15-16 when she says that his lips drop sweet-smelling myrrh, whose mouth…(or words) [are]most sweet. It should be a challenge to us to follow the example of our Savior in learning to be gracious in our response to others.

The grace of our Lord Jesus was also evident in His walk and work. Luke 2:40 states: “the Child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon Him”. The grace or favor of God was always upon the Lord Jesus. Just how that was manifested is not described, but it must have included the manner in which He walked among men. When John, saw Him, he declared, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world”. Acts 10:38 states that He “went about doing good and healing all those who oppressed of the devil”. Not only did that kindness show itself in His attitude but in His actions. He healed the sick, raised the dead and did many other good works to many different people. He even demonstrated this grace toward those who rejected or ignored His message. To the rich young ruler who turned away from His offer to follow Him was this grace shown. Instead of chiding him as we might do when someone spurned our overtures, the Word of God says that “beholding him, He loved him”, Mark 10:21. Now that’s grace! When Malchus, the high priest’s servant came with the entourage to arrest Him in the Garden, the Lord healed Malchus’ ear which had been sliced off by Peter. That’s grace! And to Judas, who came to betray Him, He met with the words, “Friend, why art thou come?” Friend? Now that is grace beyond belief! All this pales in comparison however to the grace that was manifested at Calvary. To the crowd at the Cross that mocked, jeered, ridiculed, plucked, spit upon, scorned and did all manner of evil to Him, He did not revile, nor threaten, or open His mouth in retaliation, but graciously replied: “Father, forgive them they know not what they do”. By doing so, He opened the Life gates of seventh and final City of refuge, that all may go in –to them and to all of humanity whom they represented. It is this grace which brings salvation (Titus 2:11) which the Law of Moses could never do. “The law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17). This grace is the grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!

But the grace of our Lord Jesus does not stop there! It continues on in His heavenly ministry to us. “Of His grace have we all received and grace for grace” (literally grace upon grace), John 1:17. It flows freely. We have been forgiven according to the riches of His grace, Eph. 1:7. It has been shed upon us abundantly in Jesus Christ. By it, we have access into the presence of God (Rom. 5:1) being freely justified by it, Rom. 3:24. Consequently, we should never tire of testifying of the Gospel of the grace of God, Acts 20:24. We should sing about it in our hearts to the Lord (Col. 3:16), to the praise of the glory of His grace, Eph. 1: 6. Through it, we are equipped to serve Him and His people, 1 Cor. 3:10. Because it comes from Him (Eph. 3:7-8) according to the measure of the gift of Christ, (Eph. 4:7), we should never glory in our abilities, but should give Him the honor, Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 4:7. Through it we are built up and given an inheritance, Acts 20:32. At times, this grace is dispensed freely from His throne of grace as a kindness to us. Other times, we must boldly approach the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need, Heb. 4:16. The grace that drives our service and gives us the power and desire to do His will, increases along with peace through the knowledge of Him, 2 Peter 1:3. It is what we are urged to continually grow in as we mature in the faith and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Peter 3:15. We are to be occupied with grace, not externals of the faith which does not profit, Heb. 13:9. It is what should season our words (Col. 4:6) that it may instill a holy desire in others whom we talk with to serve the Lord more fervently, Eph. 4:30. Grace everywhere! “Grace, Tis a charming sound”!

There are many dimensions to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, both in His earthly ministry and in His heavenly ministry toward us. Will we ever be able to fully plumb its depths? No wonder Paul prayed that the Ephesians would understand what is the breadth, and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge…”, Eph. 3:18-19. Regardless of where we are in our walk with the Lord, surely we can testify with confidence and conviction that “It is grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.”!

The Message and the Messenger

When Paul came to Mar’s Hill in Athens during his second missionary journey, he was completely by himself. Timothy and Silas, his associates in ministry had been left in Berea, while he was sent away by the brethren due to the dangerous and escalating conditions there (Acts 17:13). The unbelieving Jews who had stirred up the crowds in Thessalonica were intent on doing the same in Berea and consequently the apostle had to flee the area for his own safety.

Arriving in Athens, the apostle discovered a culture steeped in pagan idolatry. Surrounding him were the abundant evidences of man’s dark and fallen nature. The scene deeply provoked his spirit as he witnessed firsthand the grip that sin has over the hearts and minds of people, whom God had created in His own image. Not one for standing idle, the former Pharisee made a beeline for the local synagogue reasoning with the Jews and devout Gentiles and daily with those in the marketplace who would meet with him. Others, like the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers adversely encountered him, ridiculing and questioning his new and unique message of Jesus and the resurrection (v. 18). Not backing away and always ready to give an answer, Paul certainly relished the opportunity to clarify his message to these religious curiosity seekers (v. 20), who brought him to Mars Hill, the central meeting place in town. What followed was a concise, yet effective presentation of the Gospel in all its simplicity, demonstrating that is the power of God unto salvation—a message for everyone regardless of their cultural background or personal persuasions. It clearly shows that the Gospel can stand on its own and does not require any props or apologies to ramp up to its audience, no matter how diverse that audience may be. It is also a display case of the qualities and attitudes that are behind any successful Gospel ministry. What were some of the qualities and attitudes that Paul exhibited in this proclamation of the truth, qualities that we need to likewise embrace in our diverse, but depraved culture?

First, Paul demonstrated the quality of boldness. Without spiritual back up, Paul might have been tempted to waffle at the opportunity speak to the crowd assembled on Mars Hill. But standing in their midst, surrounded by an adverse and potentially dangerous audience he boldly proclaimed the truth of the Gospel. The scripture reminds us, “the righteous are as bold as a lion” (Prov. 28.1) and certainly Paul was that as he single-handedly preached the Word to them—“a stranger in a stranger land” with a “strange” message to a really strange audience. Paul was bold in the Lord and we need to be bold in the Lord, too.

Paul also exhibited respect. Even though he knew that he had to speak the truth in love, he also knew that he needed to “adorn the doctrine of God” (Titus 2: 10) and emulate the Savior who brought a message that was both “grace and truth” (John 1: 17). He knew that many, if not all of them were lost in the darkness of sin and were fundamentally opposed to the Gospel of Christ, but still there was no attitude of condescension in his opening remarks. Rather, he acknowledged what they were—not superstitious but religious and devoted to their cause. He commended them for their intensity (albeit misdirected intensity) and by so doing gained a listening ear, at least initially. We also need to be respectful in our presentation of the truth.

Paul was also direct in his message. He was frank about the core issue – ignorance of God and His way of salvation. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you” (v. 23). The altar dedicated and inscribed with the words “to the unknown God” only heralded their misconception of the true God. Paul did not “beat around the bush” or sidestep the issue, but was direct in his words, dealing with the real matter at hand. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand” Paul reminded the believers in Rome (Rom. 13:12) and the time is short for us as well. “Let the redeemed of the Lord, say so!” (Ps. 107:2).

Paul was also logical in his presentation. He was orderly in his argument. The major tenets of his message were: 1) they were religious, but ignorant (vv. 22-23); 2) the God Whom they do not know controls them and not the other way around (vv. 24-27); 3) we are the offspring of a personal God, and therefore should not worship Him with fanciful images and carvings (vv. 28-29); 4) their ignorance in the past God overlooked, but now calls people to repent based on Christ’s resurrection from the dead (vv. 29-31). At first, there was resistance to the message, but that resistance was countered by Paul’s powerful refutation, which was clear, orderly and logical in its development. Our messages should be the same. “The Preacher …set [s] in order many proverbs” (Ecc. 12:9).

As is often the case, whenever the Gospel is preached there is a varied response to the message. In this case, here there was ridicule and indifference (v. 32) but also belief unto the truth (v.34). The fact that there were not more “decisions” for the Lord was not because Paul did not effectively present the truth–it was because wherever the Gospel seed is sown there will always be hard ground that prevents it from taking root as well as indecisive hearts that have not yet been willing to release their grip from the pull of the world.

Paul’s message at Mar’s Hill was brief, but it was long enough to show us some of the essential qualities of the simple Gospel message that we also need to exhibit regularly in our preaching of the Word. May we be bold and respectful, direct and logical as we too bring the Gospel message with us, wherever we go.

Refreshment and Revival

“As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” Prov. 25:25

I will never forget the experience. It was a sizzling hot summer day when a group of men in our fellowship played another team in a softball game. When we started, we were all very energetic and ready to play. But as the game wore on, so did we. Halfway through the arduous event, with our arms and shoulders drooping (and our spirits as well), someone showed up with an ample supply of ice cold water and an array of soft drinks. What a surprise and what a blessing! It did not take long for that source of refreshment to be tapped into and enjoyed. And did we ever appreciate it! The effect it had on me as well as the rest of the team was astounding. There was a new supply of energy and a renewed vigor in my step as I related to one of my teammates at the time. We were all refreshed and revitalized as a team and we were able to complete the task we had set out to do from the very beginning – not just to play the game, but to finish it and win.

In many ways, this seemingly trivial incident in the grand scheme of things is remarkably similar to what can occur in our life with Christ and our service for Him. Periodically, we can succumb to the heat of the day and scorching cares of life. They can wither our resolve, sap our spiritual strength and slacken our pace from pressing on for Christ. Energetic and enthusiastic at first, we are determined to do well and finish strong. But in the battle, we falter under the strain and sag in our spirit. Unfortunately for some, it has been that way far too long. The words of Paul to the Galatians seem very fitting: “You did run well, who did hinder you that you should not obey the truth?” (Gal. 5:7). Resolve can quickly fade like the setting sun (Judges 5:15).

But God in His mercy and grace has a way of helping us out in these situations just at the time we need it most. Like it was on that summer day on the ballfield, “someone” shows up (most certainly under the Lord’s direction) with a refreshing supply of “cold water” for our weary souls. How it encourages our hearts and revives our spirits! It might be a simple verse that speaks to a need at the time or an account of answered prayer that lifts our hearts. Or it may be an outstanding report of God’s power and might at work in a distant land – good news from a far country – that recaptures for us the hope that God’s ways will yet prevail. It has a wonderful way of renewing our spirits and lengthening our spiritual stride and its effect is often immediate and undeniable. Thank God for His “someones” who show up in our lives in our time of need.

From another point of view however, we can also be looking to be that “someone” to others who are within our spiritual reach. Service for Christ and prayer for His servants (both abroad and home) are ways in which we can be a source of blessing and refreshment. The battle can be heated at times and constant targeted prayer is an absolute necessity (Acts 12:5). Just as Joshua prevailed against Amalek only as Moses hands were held up and steady until the going down of the sun, (Ex. 17:12-13); so too the battles of the Lord are fought and won as God’s people are steadfast in prayer (1 Thess. 5:17). We need the help of each other to continue in prayer and those on the front lines desperately need our prayers. They need it and appreciate it! Israel prevailed because Joshua used the sword while Moses prayed. It is a tremendous picture of the means of victory – prayer and the Word of God.

God has His ways of providing help and refreshment when our steps are faltering. Whether we are on the giving end or the receiving end, He is faithful to His people and His Word. He is the source of all blessing and as the psalmist attested, “All my springs are in Thee” (Psalms 87:7). May we learn even more the meaning of these words in our walk with Christ.

“For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.” Philemon 7

Moving Beyond Mediocrity

The scene is a far too familiar one: the regularly scheduled elders meeting begins with a brief, but generalized time of prayer. It is then followed by the usual routine of going around the table, each elder being asked what they would like to discuss. What usually follows ranges from the urgent to the trivial – and everything in between. It may be punctuated with a passionate exchange of differing opinions or it may simply proceed in the typical, unexciting “business as usual” format.  A few important items may be discussed at length, but by the end of the meeting, it resembles more of an administrative task force than a spiritual strategic planning and implementation think tank.  Unfortunately, the minutia of assembly life often wins the day – the withering details that cause the heads and hands to droop even lower than when the meeting first began as it comes to a rushed and nebulous conclusion. 

If this has been your experience in the meetings in which you serve as an elder, take heart – you are not alone! Too many elders meetings are characterized by such a routine, a routine that needs to be adjusted, if not radically overhauled if the local church is make a difference in the world. Considering the gravity of the present decline in our culture, it is incumbent upon all elders to maximize their time, sharpen their focus, and identify and address the significant spiritual issues affecting congregational life. True, there will always be minor “housekeeping” details that need to be addressed, but to exclude the more serious issues that require deeper spiritual dredging should never be neglected. They need to be brought up prayerfully examined, discussed and properly dealt with. The vitality and wellbeing of the congregation is at stake, a condition for which the elders will have to one day give an account, Heb. 13:17.  If the elders don’t do the job, who will?

With this in mind, I would like to suggest some helpful reminders to revitalize and improve the elders meetings. Here they are:

Prepare Your Heart

Prior to the elders meeting, each elder should privately commit this meeting to the Lord in prayer. As under shepherds of God’s heritage, prayer for everything affecting the local assembly should be the regular exercise of every elder anyway. Since this position was one that was desired (1 Tim 3:1), there should be a readiness to bathe their responsibility in prayer and an eagerness to do so. Done regularly, this can only help to elevate the tone of the meeting and steer it away from the mundane. In so doing, elders can practically demonstrate what Paul exhorted the Philippians to do, to “approve the things that are excellent”, Phil. 1:10.

Establish An Agenda

Another helpful reminder for effective elders meetings is to be prepared with an agenda ahead of time – not your agenda, but the elders! The temptation can arise to come to this meeting without adequate preparation and simply react to the items that are put on the table. Without planning forethought on each one’s part, effective elders meetings will struggle to stay afloat. To facilitate this, elders in some fellowships arrange in advance to collect agenda items in order to assemble and prioritize a master list. This can be done through emails or by phone by designated elder who collects all agenda items. This will help keep the meeting on track and effectively move it along at an even pace. Each elder should certainly be encouraged to keep an ongoing list between meetings so there is not a frantic last minute attempt to quickly put together such a list.     

Budget Your Time

Another important element of effective elders meetings and a must if they are to be revitalized is to adequately budget the time allotted. The length of elders meetings may vary among local congregations, but one thing is usually the same – items brought up first on the agenda have the luxury of being given a lot more consideration time, while items that come up at the end are time-deprived. This is accentuated when the typical order is routinely followed and the elder who unfortunately is last in line has only minutes to talk about what is on his list. This is why a pre-arranged and prioritized list is so important – it avoids a lop-sided agenda and keeps the discussion balanced.  It is also the reason why the order of discussion should be varied. If this is the format followed, try switching it up and changing the order. In the same vein, try also alternating who leads the discussion each month, quarter or year. It will go a long way in keeping things fresh.     

Keep on Track

Staying on track is also an imperative for effective elders meetings. We have all experienced the curse of getting off course. The question is asked: “How is brother so and so doing after his surgery?” “Well, he’s fine. He is out of rehab but his car is in the shop”.  To which another elder replies: “Maybe we need to arrange rides for him. By the way, have we serviced the church van lately?” Another elder replies, “No, not lately. Who is responsible anyway for servicing the van and why don’t we get a maintenance schedule established? This is a problem and we need to fix it”. And off the discussion goes into orbit, requiring a lasso a mile long to bring it back. A simple question of asking how a person in the assembly is doing ends up going in a completely different direction. And we wonder why we run out of time by the end of the meeting? If we are to get accomplished what really needs to get accomplished, it will require disciplined thinking and planning and bringing the discussion back to center. Not easy to do, but critical!  It is standard operating procedure in the business world, why not do it even better in the house of God, which is the “pillar and ground of truth”, 1 Tim. 3:15?

Keep Good Notes

Finally, there is a need to record items discussed and decisions rendered if we are to have effective elders meetings. We so easily forget and need our memories jogged as to the details surrounding certain decisions, especially in the months afterwards. Notes should be taken, duplicated, and stored for easy retrieval. Copies should be promptly provided to each of the elders. A collective “To Do” list with specifics included and a date in which items on the list should be accomplished should be assembled. Furthermore, efforts should be taken to employ every elder for the tasks at hand. It helps avoid the “armchair elder” syndrome that can characterize many elders’ meetings – a lot of talk, but little or no action. 

Effective elders meetings are definitely needed if we are to make any spiritual headway for Christ. These have been just a few suggestions for elders to help things run more smoothly in a job that receives very little thanks and can be excruciatingly difficult at times. Regardless, it is a position that should emote from every member of the local church an attitude of acknowledgement, submission and loving respect for those who serve the Lord in this way, Heb. 13:7; 17; 24. Anything that can be done to make it more efficient, more effective will help foster admiration and appreciation for the challenging work that they are engaged in. And for those who faithfully serve in this capacity, keep in mind that through the tears and through the years, the Lord holds out a special reward, a crown of glory that will not fade away, 1 Peter 5:4.   

Pressing On

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.  Phil 3:12

We sing the hymn regularly (or at least we use to in years gone by):  

I’m pressing on the upward way, New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound, “Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”
Lord, lift me up and let me stand, By faith, on Heaven’s table land,
A higher plane than I have found; Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.

The next stanza really brings it home:

My heart has no desire to stay, Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where those abound, My prayer, my aim, is higher ground.

We sing this hymn both as a prayer and an admission that we are not where we should be with the Lord. There is indeed far more ground to be gained in our walk and service for Him. Though we would like to think that we are “gaining new heights every day”, we are more like Joshua who was told by God that despite his advanced years, there was “much more land to be possessed”, Joshua 13:1. It seems to be the same for many of us. Truthfully, for all the personal devotions we have had, the messages listened to and the Bible studies attended, we really should be a lot further along in our lives for Christ than we are.

So why aren’t we gaining new heights every day?  Why are we so vulnerable to the doubts that arise and the fears that dismay?  Admittedly, there are a lot of personal hindrances in the Christian life, but the chief reason may fall squarely on us. It really boils down to a matter of the heart. God says, “My son, give me thine heart”, Prov. 23:26. If our hearts are not fully occupied with Christ, they can become easily occupied with other things.  We can easily be lured off center. At best, we are unprofitable servants and like Paul can attest, “In me, that is in my flesh dwelleth no good thing”, Rom. 7:18. Truth be told, our hearts lean toward Egypt. We glance back there from time to time and then wonder why we are not satisfied with manna from above. Frankly, it shows that we still have an appetite for things that we developed a taste for in our former life, Num. 11:1-6. In the words of another hymn writer, we confess, “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love”.  It is not that He leaves us – He will never do that (Rom. 8:39; Heb. 13:5) – but we can and do drift from Him. We would like to blame it on everything and everyone else, but when it comes right down to it, we are at fault because we allow the “little foxes” to come in and spoil the vines, Song 2:15. These are just some of the personal hindrances that keep us from gaining higher ground.   

But there are also outward hindrances that keep us from living life on a higher plane. There are a lot of adversaries to the Christian, 1 Cor. 16:9.  We live in a day in which the word of God is being denied, if not attacked. There is a “famine” in the land, Amos 8:12. The room is getting darker as the curtains of this age draw to a close. There is not much to encourage us as we watch the nightly news. Scripture calls this system, “this present evil world”, Gal. 1:4. It is contrary to the things of God and all we stand for. The world hated the Lord when He walked on this earth and it hates Him now when He is faithfully represented by His servants who walk in His steps, Luke 23:35-36; John 15:18, 1 Peter 2:21. Through various means, it enslaves the lost as it promulgates its philosophies and distracts and even derails the saints, causing them to leave to their first love and affection for the Savior, Rev. 2:4.  The glitter and glamour projected by the world and its ways are but a thin veneer that disguises the anti-God values that characterize it. Daniel’s prophecy of successive world empires portrayed it perfectly – valuable in the eyes of man (Dan. 2), but in actuality horrific and beast-like in the eyes of God (Dan. 7).  It is worse than we may even think, yet many of us are taken up with its ways.  We need to turn from it and take our cue from Demas’ defection (2 Tim. 4:10) and also the men in Elisha’s day when they said of Jericho, “the situation of the city is pleasant….but the water is bad and the ground barren”. It is an apt description of this world, 2 Kings 2:19. Like Jericho, the world offers nothing to refresh and satisfy the soul.  

The main reason for all of this opposition that keeps many living on a lower plane is due to the instigation of the avowed enemy of our soul, the devil. He possesses a vast array of weaponry in his arsenal to make the path of the believer as difficult as possible to tread. Through temptation, deceit, imitation, lies, inferences, and a plethora of other snares and devices (2 Cor. 2:11), he is able to dupe those who are rely on instinct rather than seeking the guidance of the Lord. He works tirelessly to keep the unsaved under his sway and to thwart believers from advancing to higher ground.

So, what is our recourse then? How do we gain ground as Paul encouraged the saints at Philippi to do? How are we to “press on” in the midst of so many hindrances and ardent opposition? One way is to stay focused on the bigger picture. Keep your eye on the goal – the prize of our high calling in Christ Jesus.  One day we will be in heaven and this “light affliction” which lasts but for a moment will yield eternal reward, 2 Cor. 4:17. In the words of another, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus”. As a well-known evangelist once stated: “I have read the last chapter of the Bible and we win!”.         

Another, way to keep pressing on is to stand on the promises of God’s Word. God has given us light for the path and all along this path are the promises of His Word. There are the promises of His presence, of His power, and of His provision. He has told us clearly, that “…He will never leave us nor forsake us so that we may boldly say the Lord is my helper what can man do unto me?, Heb. 13:5-6. Like Jacob, He will be with us and keep us in the way that we go, (Gen. 28:15) and He finish the work that He began in us, Phil. 1:6. This promise of His faithfulness to should motivate us to live even more for Him, that we may do that we may be well-pleasing to Him, 2 Cor. 5:9.       

Yes, there are so many things to discourage us when we look around – defections to the world, disagreements with others, disappointments with ourselves – things that can keep us living on a lower plane. But when we look to the Lord and His Word, there is so much more that will brighten our path as we journey toward our home in Heaven. Press On!

“But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto that perfect day”, Prov. 4:18.


Every true believer has a responsibility to bear fruit for the Lord, a fact supported by the Scriptures, beginning to end. In Ex. 28, Aaron’s priestly robe was to be adorned on the hem with pomegranates and golden bells. The pomegranates speak of the visible aspect of our testimony—fruit-bearing—and the golden bells, the audible aspect in our testimony and service for Him. In Num. 17, Aaron’s rod that budded is a powerful picture of Christ as our Great High Priest in His resurrection ministry. But it is also a compelling example of the responsibility of the believer to walk in newness of life and to also bud and blossom and bear fruit. In the parable of the soils in Matt. 13, the only soil that the Lord spoke well about was the soil which brought forth fruit; some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold, some one hundredfold (v. 8). It represents the genuine believer whose fruitful life demonstrates the undeniable proof of properly receiving the Gospel seed. Likewise, in writing to the Colossian believers the apostle Paul commended them for the evidence of their true faith in Christ by the fact that the Gospel brought forth fruit in their lives from the very first day since they knew the grace of God in truth (Col. 1:6). The case is clear: every believer should bear fruit for the Lord.

But not only is there a clear case for bearing fruit, but there is also a clear command for bearing fruit. To those whose lives were impacted through the ministry of John the Baptist, the confirming word to them was: “Bring forth fruits, meet for repentance” (Matt. 3:8). Their repentance would be substantiated by the fruit that would be evident in their lives. Likewise, in Rom. 7:4 the command for fruit-bearing is also clearly stated: “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God”. The Lord said to His disciples in John 15:“Herein is my Father glorified that ye bear fruit, so shall ye be my disciples” (v. 8). It was not just a suggestion; it was a mandate from the Lord himself. Later, He stated: “You have not chosen Me but I have chosen you and ordained you that you should bring forth fruit and that your fruit should remain…” (John 15:16). He has called us to bring forth fruit and for that fruit to remain. This fruit comes from abiding in Him and results in the Father being glorified. The Lord Himself promised that the Holy Spirit will dwell in us forever (John 14:7, 16, 23), but for the Holy Spirit to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit requires that we are in communion with Him. We abide in Christ as we dwell close to Him. This was the essence of Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians when he wrote: “that Christ might dwell in your hearts by faith” (Eph. 3:17). This should be our prayer as well. But how “close” are we to the Lord and how much fruit is being displayed as a result of being near Him? True, positionally we are very near to God and nearer we cannot be, but practically, perhaps we could be a little bit nearer.

The NT identifies four different categories of fruit-bearing for the Christian. The first relates to the fruit of our character. These are the inward attitudes and qualities that shape our personality and make up our personal, private lives. Often it is easy to identify the more obvious sins of the flesh, both in ourselves and in others. But attitudes are far more difficult to detect and are also displeasing to the Lord, if contrary to the Word of God. Gal. 5:22-23 describes the multifaceted dimension of the fruit of the Spirit and the type of attitudes that God desires for the Christian. This fruit reflects Christ-likeness; something the law could never produce (v. 23). These are the virtues and graces manifested in the life of every born-again believer through the purifying work of the Holy Spirit, which we should be diligent in cultivating (2 Peter 1:3-7). Are we working on these qualities through the help of the Holy Spirit as we pray and read God’s Holy Word? If we are, this fruit will be reflected in our demeanor and then wonderfully displayed through our kind words and deeds in our lives for the sake of Christ and His kingdom.

These kind words and deeds are the actions that represent the second category of fruit-bearing in the NT, our conduct. Paul encouraged the Philippian believers to be sincere and without offense until the Day of Christ, “being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:11). He acknowledged that their public lives and actions evidenced the work of Christ within. One of the ways that this fruit was exhibited in their experience was by the financial gift they sent to him. Paul rejoiced that this sacrificial gift was fruit that abounded to their account (Phil. 4:17). Giving to the work of the Lord is a fine example of fruit-bearing and one in which there could be more displayed! But giving is not all there is in terms of the fruit of conduct. James 3:8 reminds us that the action of peacemaking also qualifies as fruit: “now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by them that make peace”. There could also be more of this fruit displayed as well! Fruit-bearing is not just a private, attitudinal matter; it is outward and action-oriented.

A third category of fruit-bearing relates to our conversation, namely our worship of the Lord and the frequency by which we render thanks to the Lord. Heb. 13:15 reminds us: “By Him therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually that is the fruit of our lips, giving thanks unto His Name”. We should thank the Lord continually for all He did for us in salvation and all He does for us in His present intercessory ministry on our behalf. The leper that was healed along with nine other lepers demonstrated this fruit when he came back and consciously thanked the Lord, who was surprised that the others did not do the same. We are exhorted in 1 Thess. 5:18: “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God concerning you.” Each one of us ought to continually give thanks to the Lord, no matter what the situation may be. As Psalm 107;2 states: “Let the redeemed of the Lord who He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy”.

The fourth category of fruit-bearing in the NT deals with those we win to the Lord, our converts. In writing to the Romans, Paul expressed his desire to win others for Christ when he said: “that I might have some fruit among you also, as also among the other Gentiles” (Romans 1:13). He also referred to the house of Stephanas as the firstfruits of Achaia. Certainly, this is fruit that will always remain since no true believer will ever perish. What a worthy endeavor! If the great apostle Paul humbly requested prayer to open his mouth and speak boldly for the Lord (Eph. 6:19-20), how much more should we ask for help in speaking for Christ? Certainly, Paul longed for this fruit in his life and we should too.

To have these four aspects of fruit-bearing displayed in our lives is challenging enough—it requires that we honestly and objectively be before the Lord in prayer, and not just give Him lip service, but that we understand our responsibility and act on those duties with His help. But what truly makes the concept of fruit-bearing even more challenging is its progressive aspect alluded to by the Lord in the Upper Room Discourse. In John 15, the Lord explained that our fruit should advance from the level of no fruit, some fruit and more fruit (v. 2), to much fruit (v. 5, 8) and much glory to our Father in Heaven. Through extrapolation, this means that our fruit for God which was non-existent at one time in our lives before Christ, should always be on the increase. In other words, our joy, our patience, our love for others, our actions, our thanksgiving, our worship, those we win for Christ – these aspects of fruit-bearing should always be growing as we journey toward Heaven. But is it? Has our commitment to this fruit remained or has it become stagnant and static? Is it increasing or is it waning? Is it at the level that it once was when our lives were characterized by first love, or has it slipped back through sin or spiritual neglect? These are challenging questions indeed for every child of God who thinks through the issue of bearing fruit for God. Paul stated his desire to the Philippians to upwardly progress in his walk with the Lord when he said: “I press toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”. (Phil. 3:14) May that be our desire also as we think through our responsibility to increase in our responsibility of bearing fruit for God.

Believers Beware!

Dangers in the Day of Famine  – 2 Kings 4.38-41

As the return of the Lord draws closer each day, the need for spiritual discernment among Christians will be of the utmost importance. The devil knows that his time is short and as the last days come to a close, he will pull out every stop and utilize every device in his arsenal to waylay the saints and waltz the unsaved to their destruction. Paul reminded Timothy that in the latter times “some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils…”(1 Timothy 4.1). Peter likewise warned: “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you…” (2 Peter 2.1). There have always been false prophets in the world and false teachers in the Church, but toward the end of the last days their presence and power will intensify as Satan drags his own net across the sea of humanity and over a world system in which he has long held sway. Christians are to function as salt and light, but as the world grows increasingly corrupt and plunges more deeply into spiritual darkness, the Church’s testimony and influence in the world will be largely nullified unless spiritual vigilance is maintained. What can happen when believers are not spiritually discerning can be seen from an interesting episode in the ministry of the prophet Elisha.


Elisha lived during one of the darkest times in Israel’s history. His mentor, Elijah had in his day boldly prophesied to King Ahab that it would not rain because of the sin and idolatry that characterized the nation. Knowing the Scriptures as he did provided the man of God with the impetus to make such a powerful statement. Accordingly, a famine swept over the land, paralleling the spiritual famine that prompted it. To counter the effects of this spiritual famine, Elijah established schools for the sons of the prophets at strategic locations across the land. These schools were for the benefit of young men whom he personally discipled, drawn together by a desire for mutual encouragement and edification. Upon Elijah’s translation to heaven (2 Kings 2), this duty was transferred to Elisha his protégé who picked up the mantel and followed in his steps. On this occasion, Elisha requested that his servant put on a great pot following a time of spiritual instruction and boil stew for the sons of the prophets. But without saying a word, this servant apparently acted independently and went out into the field, gathered a lapful of wild gourds, and brought them back to be sliced into a pot of stew. When it was offered to the sons of the prophets, they could not eat it and cried out to Elisha, “There is death in this pot!” With that, Elisha instantly ordered that meal be put into the pot, which miraculously counteracted the effects of the poisonous gourds.


As we put the magnifying glass upon this portion of God’s Word, there are a number of present-day similarities that immediately jump out. First is the similarity between Israel’s condition then and the world’s condition now. Just as there was a spiritual famine in the time of Elisha, so too there is a spiritual famine in our world today. The prophet Amos wrote: “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” (Amos 8:11). For Israel, disobedience to the word of God brought about God’s judgment, resulting in a lack of rain causing conditions in which healthy food was scarce and harmful food was in abundance. In our world, the profusion of harmful, poisonous “food” expressed through the arts, literature, philosophy and other forms of media simply substantiates the fact that there is a “famine” in the land – a dearth of the hearing of the words of the Lord, brought on by a widespread repudiation of God’s truth (Romans 1). Consequently, there are spiritual dangers at every turn. Paul wrote Timothy: “Take heed to thyself and to the doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:16), emphasizing the need to be watchful in his personal life and the spiritual food that he ate. How much more should the Body of Christ in these perilous times?


Another similarity can be seen in the actions of Elisha’s servant. Like this servant, many well-meaning, but naïve believers can also be guilty of gathering harmful “food”, that is false doctrine and introducing it into the assembly, bringing about much distress among the Lord’s people. The fact that he might have acted independently only highlights the need for personal accountability in the Body and the importance to closely monitor the spiritual actions of the younger generation. Perhaps if he had stated what he was going to do, this disaster would have been averted. Could it be that he thought that a few more items introduced into the stew were necessary to fill up the “great pot” or even to make it more tasteful? If so, it could easily represent the enthusiastic, but erroneous intentions of many novices in the Lord. After all, it was a “great pot” and like the Word of God, it is a sufficient provision for the people of God with no additives needed!


The vine which was the source of the problem is also a key similarity. When the servant left the house, he was venturing outside, a dangerous place in the time of famine. As it was then, so it is now—the world is filled with “wild vines” that look healthy enough and that grow in abundance, but are actually deceitfully poisonous, as seen by the adverse reaction that it had upon the sons of the prophets. The fact that he returned with his lap full in a time of famine was prima facie evidence that something was dreadfully wrong! Vines often lie close to the earth and as such remind us of the origin and the emphasis of all false doctrine and the “dirt” that surrounds it. The apostle Paul voiced this truth when he stated in Colossians 2:8: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ”. Believers need to be on their guard and need to have a Berean spirit to make sure that all spiritual teaching accords with Scripture, lest in the course of time they find out in a hard way, that it is not. Believers beware!


Further, there is also a valuable lesson illustrated in the sons of the prophets. These would-be disciples made the common mistake that many of God’s people make – they ate anything and everything put before them! At the least, they should have inquired as to what was in the stew. Unfortunately, they soon found out! They were not told, neither did they ask. There is one thing however, that they did do correctly – they went to a man of God who was more experienced and wiser than they. They knew something was wrong, but they did not know how to correct it. Note this carefully young people—do not go it alone, take your questions and your quandaries to those who are older and more mature in the faith and undoubtedly they will give you valuable advice that will keep you from harm.


What was the solution to this whole mess? When Elisha’s help was solicited, the solution came by introducing meal into the pot of stew. Meal, especially fine meal speaks of the moral and consistently fine life of Christ (C.P. Lev. 2). The antidote for any false doctrine comes down to a proper understanding and application of the Person and Work of Christ. This is what will undo the adverse effects of false teaching. Note that the servant was not exhorted to throw out the pot or even tip it over, but rather he was given the task of counteracting its contents with that which was nourishing to the sons of the prophets. Nor was the servant ostracized for bringing the poisonous gourds in. As a matter of fact, the servant was the very one who was given the task to purify the stew. What a lesson there! How many believers through the centuries have picked up some poisonous gourd and brought on adverse consequences or even personal suffering, has witnessed the miraculous turnaround that results from feeding on a diet rich on the Person of Christ?


The Apostle Paul commended the Philippian believers for their spiritual discernment when he said: “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment” (Philippians 1:9). That same spiritual judgment is what believers everywhere (especially elders) need to exercise if they are to avoid the dangers that abound in the day of famine.

Copyright © 2021 Know the Word Ministries. All Rights Reserved. Designed and Developed by Louise Street Marketing.