Address given in Plumstead, 3rd April, 1997
- 1 Corinthians 4:1,2
- Numbers 25:1-9
- Exodus 32:26-29
I wish to say a word on faithfulness. We live in a day of departure and declension, a day in which Satan is attacking that which is for God. We live in a day when individual faithfulness is required.
If we take account of God's dealing with man from the very beginning we will find a litany of failure on the part of man. Whether we think of Adam or if we think of Noah or if we think of Abraham or David or Solomon, if we think of Israel as a nation, if we think of the Assembly, all have failed. We have in our Lord Jesus Christ the Faithful and True Witness. And what a wonderful thing it is that in the midst of failure and departure there is our blessed Lord Who holds together and will bring into fruition every thought of God. Blessed thought, beloved, that we are linked to this glorious Man, this Man whom it is said 'He shall not fail', that 'as a nail in a sure place upon Whom all His glories of His Father's house hang', One who was faithful unto death.
We read that "God is faithful by whom ye have been called into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord." We get faithfulness coming from the very apex, God Himself, God is faithful. There is no question as to the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ. And there are some people in the Scriptures who have exhibited the features of faithfulness, these are examples to us. But of course our Lord Jesus Christ is the prime example. It is true to say that every feature that marked our Lord Jesus as a man, it is intended that these features should be reproduced in us so that that which is objective will be matched by that which is subjective and if there is the need for Scripture's support we will find that in Hebrews 3 the Lord Jesus is referred to as the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. And as the Apostle He is the One who brought out the mind of God in all its glory and blessedness. If, for instance, we think of the blessings that are connected with the saints of the present time and we go to the Ephesians we find the superlative language used in regard of those blessed privileges and blessings that accrue to the saints because of the Lord Jesus; we have been taken into favour in the Beloved, we are told. And then if we think of the Old Testament and the types, when God presents the sacrifices He starts at the top, the burnt offering and it is a principle that when God comes out to man He comes out from the top. Needless to say when we are going to approach we come in from the bottom. And so you will find that even with the tabernacle, the ark and the Mercy Seat representing the presence of God, the cherubim with their wings touching each other and in that mid position, the Shekinah Glory, where God dwelled. But when man approaches he comes by way of the court, in fact, the children of Israel came to the entrance of the tent of meeting and at the entrance of the tent of meeting, it was the largest entrance, there was the brazen altar. And when you go further at the door of the Holy Place there was the laver where the priest had to wash before he could go into the sanctuary. And when you come to the Holy of Holies, the altar of incense was at the door of the Holy of Holies and the high priest could only go in once a year. Oh, what a blessed privilege it is for us that we can go in to God at any time and at all times, "Let us approach therefore with boldness" we are told "to the throne of grace.", we can go right into God because we are all priests. But then we have Moses being spoken of as a faithful servant and I have read of a man who has exhibited faithfulness, I have read of a tribe that exhibit faithfulness and I want to speak of individual faithfulness and collective faithfulness.
I read in 1.Corinthians 4 where we are told about the stewards: "Let a man so account of us as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God." As stewards have things committed to his charge and we're told that "it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful." Now, when the Lord was about to depart he gave talents according to the parable in Matthew 25 to his servants, he gave one five and one two and one one. The one who had five he gained five, the one who had two he gained two. Numerically you would say that five is more than two but on a percentage basis they both had a hundred per cent gain. But these talents were given on the basis of the various abilities and God takes account, the Lord takes account of us in regard of our various responsibilities and the greater the privileges the greater the responsibilities. And what a responsibility rests upon us if we profess to have the truth of God. What have we done with the truth that has been committed to us? The truth which we sometimes arrogantly boast about, that we have the truth and we even tend to look down on other Christians, what have we done with it? Tonight, I believe that the Lord would challenge us as to faithfulness to what He has committed to us. And so we have this statement as to the steward, that he should be faithful. Dear Paul speaks of it in regard of the mysteries of God which we have learnt, that which has been revealed to us, that which we have gotten from the Scripture, by the study of the Scripture, the mysteries of God. We've been speaking on the Revelation and the unfolding of mysteries because the prophetic word involves something of the nature of mysteries but not mysteries that are not unfolded but mysteries that are unfolded or can be unfolded to us, so that we can understand what God would do in the future while in one sense those things of which we have been speaking do not properly relate to us as of the Assembly but we have been trying to apply these things in a moral way.
So now, I read of Phinehas in Numbers 25. The situation in that chapter was a very sad one. If we go back earlier we will find that Balak had secured the services of Balaam to curse the people of God. If we examine these parables we will find that the first one relates to separation. Separation is a primary principle with God. In any relationship that God has with man it is on the basis of separation. If we even take creation we will find the principle of separation is exhibited. He divided the light from the darkness. There was a separation of waters and waters, the principle of separation we have in the creation. But if we think of the relationship of God when He was going to establish a relationship with a people on earth, in the call of Abraham, what do we get? God said to Abraham 'Get thee out of thy land and from thy kindred and from thy father's house.' If there was going to be any relationship at all it would have to be on the basis of separation and not separation in a sort of superficial way. There are three things that were said to Abraham. He was to leave his land, he was to leave his kindred and he was to leave his father's house. You'll find that the circle gets closer and closer, you might say concentric circles. But the most difficult one is the inner circle, his father's house and we're going to see as we proceed that the question of natural relationship should not determine how we react to the truth of God. In practice we have been deterred by relationship, natural relationship, friendship and we are afraid, indeed we refuse to move in regard of the truth of God because of the constraints of natural relations and friends. Do you think that God will accept that? Does it not border on idolatry? You say that's very strong, that's strong, but idolatry simply means anything that takes the place of God, anything, it matters not what it is. It might be something that God Himself instituted, marriage is an institution of God and your wife you must love and the wives must be subject to their husbands. But is your wife to take a place higher than the Lord? Is your father? Your mother? Your brother? Your sister? Oh, beloved brethren, the acid test comes when there are circumstances which require that a man must stand alone if need be.
In Exodus, where I read, and I'll come to it in a minute, Moses stood alone. Of course we know that Joshua was with Moses and we're told that he did not depart from the tent of meeting. But for the purposes of what I'm saying Moses stood alone. Aaron the high priest was tainted, he made the image, he caused the people to go into idolatry, a man of renown, an influential man, a man amongst the saints who should be giving a lead according to God, what did he? He made the calf, the golden calf. And when Moses challenged him as to what he had done, think of what a high priest responded, 'The people gave me these things, I cast it into the fire and this came out.' It reminds me of Saul, and not that I am comparing Aaron with Saul but the principle. Samuel had said to Saul that he was to tarry for seven days 'until I come'. He waited seven days, that's to say he was obedient, he waited seven days but the second part of the statement was 'until I come' and he forced himself, he disobeyed God, he lost the kingdom, God would not have him. You might say 'O.K., Saul was not the king, he was not the rightful king, h e was not God's choice and therefore something had to happen.' But he proved himself unworthy, of what was imposed upon him. Aaron said that 'I cast it into the fire and this came out'. It was just an excuse and isn't that a principle that has characterised man from the very beginning. When Adam sinned and God said to Adam 'What hast thou done?' he said, 'The woman.' But it would have been bad enough if he had said 'The woman' but he says 'The woman Thou hast given me.', he was blaming God, he said that 'You God are responsible for my having sinned.' That's the character of man. And then the woman says 'The serpent beguiled me.' Isn't that the principle that marks us as man, as men, beloved, that instead of taking responsibility we make an excuse. It is because of this problem or it is because of that problem why I have not been what I ought to be. Do you believe that you can say to God that I did not do what I ought to have done because my wife hindered me, or my husband hindered me? Do you think that that is acceptable? That's merely an excuse. And so you find right down the line that man has been making excuses, excuses, excuses.
Now, after Balaam spoke of the separation he spoke of the justification of the people, not seeing iniquity in Jacob. And then he speaks about them dwelling in tents, the saints dwelling together, 'Where the saints in glory thronging, where they feed on life's blessed tree.', yes, dwelling together, feeding on Christ, on these blessed things. And then the kingdom. But that was from God's side. What were the people doing? In the face of what God had caused Balaam to say, what were the people doing? Joining themselves to Baal-Peor, acknowledged idolatry 'Thou shalt have no other God before Me', idolatry. They were committing fornication with the Moabites, moral corruption, two main features of evil. Of course we have a third, violence. That was the moral condition of the people. When God was saying these glorious things about us on the side of purpose, on the side of counsel, what is the practical and moral condition among the people of God? They'd departed from God, the moral condition was bad, they'd joined themselves to Baal-Peor. It says "The anger of Jehovah was kindled." Have we not had a sense of the anger of the Lord being kindled amongst us as His people? What has happened among the people of God? In all generations it says of David that he ministered to the will of God in his generation. What have we done in our generation? We can speak of the history of the Church and we can speak of the failure of Ephesus and we can speak of the failure of all the phases of the churches right down to the Laodicean phase. We can speak of what is past and what men before us have done but what have we done, what have we done in regard to the testimony of our Lord? So God is intervening in discipline amongst His people. He has done that and He will do it because we are not to be condemned with the world.
Now, in the face of this condition, in the face of the fact that persons were dying, there was a plague among the people of God, people were dying. 'A man' it says 'Behold, a man of the children of Israel came and brought a Midianitish woman.' Now, I believe this Midianitish woman was a princess or very close to that, she was a woman of renown. Now, we have been taught that Jericho speaks of the world in its refined form, you know, cultured form. It is very easy for us to come to a judgement of vulgar things and crude things and base things because even a man of the world would say that base things are wrong. But when it comes to refined things connected with culture we tend to be lacking in discernment, to be lacking in an appreciation of that which intervenes in a subtle and a very nice way to turn our thoughts and our hearts away from the Lord.
Well, he brought this woman and it says he brought this woman to his brethren. Like we are here now and a prominent brother brings a worldly woman right in the midst, this is the scene which we have here, right in the midst, it's not in a corner, it's not something that is hidden from the public view or hidden from the saints, it is right in the midst of the assembly. It says he brought this woman to his brethren in the sight of Moses, think of that, and in the sight of the whole assembly of the children of Israel and the children of Israel were weeping before God. There was something that was happening amongst the saints, there was a feeling that God required something of us, that we needed to repent and to get down in weeping before God and here they were weeping at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And in the midst of that and in spite of that this man came with this Midianitish woman right in the face of the assembly, in the face of the authority of the Lord and Moses.
You would have said that Moses should have acted. Well, he did not act and he did not need to act because there was a young man, a faithful man, someone of the character of Timothy. It says "Phinehas, the son of Eliezar, the son of Aaron the priest saw it and rose up from among the assembly and took a javelin in his hand." He saw it. We have seen things perhaps, we have cast a blind eye at it, we do not wish to take the responsibility of dealing faithfully with things which we have seen, instead we hope that it will go away with time. There is a Scripture that has often searched my heart "God requireth that which is past." It says 'Phinehas saw it'. He had a responsibility. If we see something we have a responsibility. But as I have said, the principle that characterises man is to make excuses. Well, yes, I saw but I am a young man and therefore I will not deal with this matter, let the elders deal with it. Did Phinehas say that? Moses was there, Aaron was there perhaps, I don't think he was there yet but any way, but Moses was there. He could have said 'O.K., fine, let Moses deal with it.' And do we not do that sometimes, we see things, we should deal with them, but we leave them, let somebody else deal with. Well, this was not Phinehas, he saw it, he rose up. He not only saw it but there was action, he rose up from among the assembly. Here were these saints weeping and Phinehas saw something that was inimical to the condition of mourning and weeping among the saints and he took it upon himself to deal with it.
God approved of what Phinehas did. Phinehas went into the tent chamber because he brought it in the midst of the assembly, then it moved into the tent. There has been that among us, beloved, that which has been brought right into the assembly and has also moved into the house. And you will find that when men or women are prepared to go away from the truth they will tend to deal with the sisters, to deal with the young people, deal with that element that do not have the knowledge of the Scripture nor discernment to come to a judgement that what you are saying is wrong, it's not supported by the Scripture. It's an insidious operation by the enemy and he uses persons of influence, beloved, to infiltrate the assembly through the weak areas and before we know what is happening we're engulfed in a problem, a serious problem and why? Because we have been unwatchful. Phinehas was watchful, he saw something was happening and he acted. Now, if we wait for things to develop they become so difficult that we are at a loss as to how to deal with them.
If Phinehas had sat where he was the plague would have got worse and worse and worse but he rose up and he acted and it says 'the plague was stayed.' Is there a plague among us? Is there a Phinehas among us who will get up and will act for God in faithfulness, not looking over his shoulder to see if anyone is following, but to get up and act for God? Verse 10 "Jehovah spoke to Moses saying 'Phinehas the son of Eliezer, the son of Aaron the priest hath turned My wrath away from the children of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them so that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy. Therefore say 'Behold, I give unto him My covenant of peace. And he shall have it." Why does the Spirit of God say what we might say in ordinary language, tautology, that which is superfluous? 'I give to him My covenant of peace.' If you give something to someone then he has it but the Spirit of God says 'And he shall have it.' Emphasis to say that God is confirming the matter, "the covenant of an everlasting priesthood because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the children of Israel." And then we get the name of the man and the name of the woman. Oh, beloved brethren, faithfulness to God, faithfulness to Christ, faithfulness to the truth, faithfulness to the Assembly.
Now, in the case of Exodus 32 we have a group, the tribe of Levi. Now, from the tribe of Levi we have one family which represents the priesthood but as we know there were three groups of Levites that had to do with the tent of meeting, the Kohathites, the Merarites and the Gershonites. And they had different functions but they had to do with the service of God. And this is a tribe that showed faithfulness in the midst of idolatry. Idolatry has come in among God's earthly people and the principle of idolatry has come in in the assembly. Moses was in the mountain with God. Aaron stripped the people, stripped them to their shame. There had been shame among the people of God.
When there was such a shame in the days of David he says 'Tell it not in the streets of Gath, let not the daughters of the Philistines rejoice.' Oh, beloved, we have had television programmes, the saints being stripped publicly to our shame. What is it to us? Beloved, are we indifferent to what has taken place among us, in our generation? David ministered to the will of God in his generation, what have we done in our generation? What will we say to the Lord in regard of our generation, what has taken place in our generation and how we have reacted to it? It says "Moses stood in the gate." I believe that Hebrews 13 is based on this Scripture "Wherefore also Jesus, that He might sanctify the people by His own blood, suffered without the gate, therefore let us go forth to Him." Not just to go in reproach but to go forth unto Him, that's the point. We cannot bear reproach on our own but if we are going 'unto Jesus outside the camp' then the possibility is that we can bear the reproach, the reproach of Christ. Peter said "If ye are reproached in the Name of Christ, blessed are ye, for the Spirit of glory and and the Spirit of God rests upon you." In the world we are put to shame, maybe amongst our brethren we are put to shame, but the Spirit of God and the Spirit of glory rests upon those who are reproached for the Name of Christ.
There's a beautiful verse in Luke 24, a beautiful chapter, much instruction but the verse that always causes my attention to be focussed is what the Lord says "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?" I think that's a pivotal verse in that chapter, 'Ought not Christ to have suffered these things?', one side, the sufferings of Christ 'and to enter into His glory?' introduces a new vista of glory that is connected with the saints being associated with Christ. But the same path that Christ trod, as the One who suffered first and then entered into glory, we must traverse that path, first suffering and then glory, or suffering and reigning. And we would rather, as the Corinthians, reign and get rid of the suffering but it doesn't work because that is the moral order with God. As far as the world is concerned it's glory and reigning now and suffering afterwards but as far as the saints are concerned it's suffering then glory. And Christ is now in glory, He's taken His heavenly glory, He's not yet taken His earthly glory. But he's waiting the time when in His love, His great love, He will come for us. We sang in one of our hymns 'The Morning Star'. We get the expression in Revelation 'The bright and Morning Star' but I like the way Peter deals with it because it is not something that we're looking for in a sort of abstract way, he says "Until the day dawn and the morning star arise in your hearts". You remember the Lord spoke of the bondman, the wicked bondman, he s ays 'The lord delays to come'. He started to beat his fellow servants and to be among the drunkards. And then the lord of that servant will come suddenly upon him in a day when he thinks not. Well, I love to think there are two sides to the reward of the bondmen and I believe that I'm right in saying that in Matthew 25 it's an earthly reward and in Luke 12 it's a heavenly reward. And what does it say in Luke 12? That the lord will gird himself and he will serve his servants. In heaven? Yes. Exodus 21, He became a Bondman for ever. And in heaven He's going to serve those, those bondmen who did exploits for Him like David's mighty men? No. Those bondmen who were anticipating the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the important part for the Christian of this dispensation, the hope of the Christian, the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. All service should be in view of that whether it is service in the sanctuary or service to men it should be in view of our Lord's return. And you know, if you search the Scripture carefully, and there are some scholars here who will know, probably anticipate what I am going to say, but the Lord's coming is connected with every major truth of the New Testament. If we think of the Lord's Supper, 'until I come' and every major feature of the truth of the New Testament you will find that the Lord's coming is connected with it. Why is this? Because that is what our focus should be. If we anticipate the Lord's coming, if we are looking for Him and the morning star arise in our hearts then this world and its glory will get dimmer and dimmer and dimmer until all of its vaunted glory will disappear and the glory of Christ will loom large in our eyes and in our hearts, the One of whom we read 'All things are not yet made subject to Him but we see Him crowned with glory and honour.' There in glory, beloved, our Lord Jesus is crowned with glory and honour and He is going to take us there. And He's going to take us with Him to earth. We're not going to come back on the earth itself but when He appears we shall be with Him and we shall share His earthly glory. He's been given to be Head over all things to the Assembly, not the Assembly under His feet but the Assembly alongside of Him, His complement, sharing His Headship. God had said in Genesis 'Let them have dominion'. Well, you get the fulfilment in Ephesians 'Head over all things to the Assembly which is His body, the fulness of Him Who filleth all in all.' Wonderful thing.
But, beloved, faithfulness is what is required. So Moses and Aaron stood in the gate. The gate speaks of administration. What do we do in our administration? Are we following the principles enunciated by the Lord, John 20, Matthew 18, the Lord He says 'Peace be unto you, as the Father sent Me I also send you'. 'Whosesoever sins ye remit they are remitted unto them, whosesoever sins ye retain they are retained.' What have we been doing, beloved, in our assemblies? Is the light removed from our assemblies because of unfaithfulness to the Lord? Oh, beloved brethren, it is required in a steward that a man be found faithful.
The tribe of Levi came out. He said 'Who is for the Lord? Who is on Jehovah's side? Let him come unto me.' The tribe of Levi came out. And what did they have to do? Stand in the gate and look at the other eleven tribes and say 'What a terrible bunch you are'? No. Moses said 'Go back into the camp, kill every man his brother, every man his neighbour, every man his friend.' I'm not advocating that we go killing people because we should not kill but the principle is that if a man refuses to separate himself from evil then I cannot be associated with him. That's the principle and it doesn't matter whether it's my brother, or my father, or my mother, or my wife, it matters not. When it comes to the truth of God then the Lord comes first and everything else falls into place. And so they went in and they did what Moses had said and there fell of the people that day three thousand men. And Moses said 'Consecrate yourselves today to Jehovah.'
Would we consecrate ourselves today to Jehovah? What is consecration? It has been said that consecration means that your heart and hands are full. Full of what? Full of Christ. It's the wave offering and the heave offering, we're waving Christ before God for His delight and pleasure, we're heaving Christ before God for His delight and pleasure. 'Consecrate yourselves today to Jehovah, yea, every man with his son.' The idea of the family is a primary thought with God. When God saves a man He intends to save his house, that's the general principle with God. It might not always happen but when it doesn't happen you can be sure of it that there is unfaithfulness somewhere but even then in the midst of unfaithfulness in His grace He does exactly what He wants to do, a man and his house. Every man with his son and with his brother and bring on yourselves a blessing today.
May the Lord graciously bless us, may we have a sense of the blessing of God as we go forth tonight, may we go to our beds in the meditation of the privacy of our homes or where we sleep and ponder what we have done in our generation in regard of the will of God. David, he ministered to the will of God in his generation. Can I say, conscientiously, that I have ministered to the will of God in my generation? May the Lord bless the word for His Name's sake.