- James Bryan
1 Tim 3
I would like to continue the theme of service for the Lord. This afternoon we looked at what God would do from His side to fit us for service, to encourage us, to set us forward. It is a wonderful thing, is it not, that God Himself would use such poor, weak, failing creatures as we are to set forth His testimony here, to represent Him? I think, as we grow in the appreciation of the wonderful grace that has met us and blessed us, it should stir from our side a desire to serve the Lord.
I have read these Scriptures in Daniel and Nehemiah because they speak of two lovers of God who made certain personal commitments to serve their God.
Daniel’s day was a difficult day. The children of Israel had been unfaithful. Even Judah had fallen into idolatry. And, in the disciplinary ways of God, Nebuchadnezzar had come and he had ransacked Jerusalem and taken them captive. And so Daniel found himself a captive in the land of the Chaldeans under Nebuchadnezzar.
But there was something special about Daniel. First of all, he was young – he was a youth. And one of the lovely things about our time together today is to see some of the young people amongst us. How I would like to commend Daniel to you!
Daniel was going to be trained – he was a clever young man, and he was going to be trained to serve in the king’s court. As part of his training, he was going to be fed with the king’s food, which, in a Godless, idolatrous nation, could have been used to be sacrificed to idols and would therefore, for a Jew, be polluted. Daniel resolved in his heart that he would not be polluted by the food of the Chaldeans. “Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not pollute himself with the king’s delicate food, nor with the wine which he drank; and he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not have to pollute himself.” How easily we are polluted by what is around us! How easily we are defiled by what we can see and hear and read! This, literally, was food, but I think we have to apply it to those corrupting things that come towards us from the world around. Can we resolve not to be partakers of these things? I feel especially at this time for the dear young people. There is so much in the world that would corrupt you and ruin your affections for the Saviour. Satan is behind it: Satan is the god and prince of this world. He is a deceiver from the beginning, and he would deceive you. He would deceive all of us into appropriating things that belong to this world’s system which will defile our response to God. Daniel was a young man who resolved to resist these things.
How we pray for the young people these days! Those who are going through school, going to college, starting work – there are many influences that you will come up against, especially in the colleges and universities. Be careful not to partake of what is of the world’s system, because it will pollute you. Be careful of the fashions and the habits of the world, because they will corrupt you. Be careful even of the way the world dresses, because it may defile you. Be careful, especially the young sisters, how you dress; be careful how you do your hair. Many hair salons of the world debase womanhood before God! They make them look shameful. Keep yourself for God, keep yourself for the Lord Jesus, Who saved you. Resolve not to be polluted by the things of this world – they are all around us. Christians should stand out as different.
Daniel did stand out as different, and God blessed him for it, and gave him favour with the king. Of course, Daniel’s friends were also different, and were very soon tested. Because they would not bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s image (Dan 3), they were put into the fiery furnace. Think of how God was with them through that testing!
Daniel himself had a very long life in service to the king. There he was, in an alien land, and God was with him. I just read that verse at the end of this chapter – “Daniel continued unto the first year of king Cyrus” – because that goes forward in history seventy-odd years, and Daniel served faithfully in the court, under God’s ordering, right through the reigns of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, to the time when the Medes and Persians took over the Chaldean empire and Cyrus became the ruler. Daniel was still there! Daniel was going to have a further test under Darius, who followed Cyrus. We all know the story of how Daniel was put into the lions’ den (Dan 6). When I was a boy I used to think that that was when Daniel was a young man – but actually, by the time that took place, Daniel was an old man! He was probably in his eighties or even nineties, and he had been faithful to God all the way through.
I do not want to dwell too long on Daniel, but I just want to set him forward, particularly for the dear young people here. Because those of us that are older, you know – we are concerned for you. You have got life before you in a world that is different from what it was when we were youngsters. Many additional influences have come in in the intervening years that could very easily corrupt you and spoil you. And the Lord would have us to commit ourselves to Him – He will keep us, He will preserve us, He will see us through. I can say that, a little, from personal experience. There have been times in my life when I have had to make decisions. Some of those decisions, perhaps through the teaching of Scripture, or the force of circumstances that God surrounded me with, caused me to take a certain line. When I look back in later life I give thanks for that, because it has saved me from many things. God has preserved me, and I give thanks for that.
So, when questions come up, seek to answer them by reference to God’s word. Seek to answer them by reference to older Christian believers who have been on the way faithfully with God for many years. But be guided particularly by the Scriptures. What Scripture says is safe.
Daniel continued right through to the reign of Cyrus. And I think that is very interesting, because of the background to our next Scripture in Nehemiah. Nehemiah followed Ezra. They were still difficult days. The people of God, in His disciplinary ways, were still in captivity. But there was going to be a revival, there was going to be some degree of recovery to the truth of God. And Ezra, and Zerubbabel before him (of whom we can read in the book of Ezra), and then Nehemiah, were going to play a part in these things. In Ezra’s day some had gone back from Babylon to Jerusalem and had rebuilt the temple. King Cyrus had been influenced to facilitate them in going back and rebuilding that temple. You might say, ‘That is a remarkable thing, fancy an idolatrous king being moved by God to enable His people to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple!’ And in the sovereign ways of God that was so. God can be behind the movements of all the nations to facilitate things, if only we trust Him.
But I think there is something in the reference that “Daniel continued unto the first year of king Cyrus.” It is a remarkable thing, that in the change of administration from the Chaldeans to the Medes and Persians, Daniel continued to serve. Usually in this world, when a new administration comes in, they remove most of the ministers of state and put in new ministers according to their own persuasions. In spite of that, Daniel continued right through, and was still serving in the royal court under Cyrus of the Medes. I wonder whether something of the faithfulness of Daniel, through all that service, carried an influence with Cyrus. ‘Oh,’ you say, ‘it was God’s sovereign doing.’ Yes, it was, but I think, very often, God acts because of the faithfulness of His people. And I think the faithfulness of Daniel through all those years contributed to Cyrus’s disposition to facilitate the recovery and the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.
And now we have Nehemiah coming onto the scene. The work is not complete – the temple might have been rebuilt, but the walls of Jerusalem around it were still in ruins. And when Nehemiah hears news from Jerusalem about the state of things – oh, how he feels it! And how we should feel the state of things in Christendom at the present time! We could include our own history in that too. I think many do feel these things, but, God has not changed. And, whilst we feel these things, let us take them to God in prayer. When Nehemiah hears the sad tidings, he takes them in repentance to his God in prayer. That is another thing I would like to encourage us in – as we seek to carry the testimony of our Lord Jesus here, that we might faithfully take things to God in prayer. That should be the way when we are asked to do something. God often has as much in mind to say to the servant as He does to those who are being served. But let us take encouragement from this! When Nehemiah heard about the state of things at Jerusalem, and that the wall was still in ruins, it says he “fasted, and prayed before the God of the heavens, and said, I beseech Thee, Jehovah, God of the heavens, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love Him and keep His commandments” (vv4‑5). Yes, God is faithful! Paul says in the New Testament, “God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape” (1 Cor 10:13, KJV). So let us trust God to preserve us – let us pray to Him about the concerns of the testimony at the present time, the Christian witness here. Dear young people, commit yourselves to Him, and cultivate the habit of prayer to God. These things mark the pious and devoted Christian.
So God blessed Nehemiah for his prayer. He went to the king, and when the king asked him what his petition was, the first thing he did was pray again before he answered the king. It says, “The king said to me, For what dost thou make request? So I prayed to the God of the heavens” (ch2:4). And then he made his request, and the king granted it. And Nehemiah’s work was prospered by God. He went to Jerusalem and did a site survey of what needed to be done. It says, “I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days. And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me – but I told no man what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem” (vv11‑12). Oh, that we might be available to have God put something into our hearts to do for the Christian testimony here!
Nehemiah brought many helpers into the work. Perhaps that is where many of us would come in. We need to be helpers of a Nehemiah. It was quite amazing, you know – they rebuilt that wall in 52 days (ch6:15)! Jerusalem and the temple inside it were protected again from the outside influences. And how varied were those who contributed to the building of the wall! They were not all stonemasons and bricklayers. Some of them were goldsmiths. Some of them were perfumers. Some of them were women – so the sisters come into this. Do not opt out because you think this is all a brothers’ domain, dear sister! You, too, can be a participator in what contributes to the recovery of things under God.
So the wall was built, and God blessed it. Then both Ezra and Nehemiah had further work to do with the people. Ezra had to meet conditions of corruption among the priests. They had to purify themselves. They had to separate themselves from unholy alliances. That is why I made the appeal about Daniel at the outset. Let us not get into these unholy alliances, let us keep ourselves for the Lord.
Then Nehemiah had to help the underlying state of the people, for they too had got into ungodly ways. They were taking usury of their brethren (ch 5:7). The richer among them were oppressing the poor. That is not the spirit of Christ at all. Throughout the Scriptures, God makes very careful provision for the poor and the stranger, for the widows and the fatherless. And that spirit of compassion, that spirit of kindness, is to pervade God’s people. Let us be preserved in the good of all these things!
Well, there you have two examples from the Old Testament of those men who served God, and it came about by personal exercise with them – exercise not to be corrupted and polluted by the influences around them, and exercise to seek to restore something for the glory of God.
I turn now to the New Testament, for this line of encouragement is needed in the Christian era, the present dispensation. Timothy, too, was a young man. And he had a godly grandmother and a godly mother. He knew the Scriptures. Dear young people here today, you have the privilege of being in an environment, in the family and in the home, where the Scriptures are read. Read them as much as you can! Get to know them as much as you can!
Paul commends Timothy for his knowledge of the Scriptures. But he says, “Be not negligent of the gift that is in thee” (1 Tim 4:14). And he outlines conditions for those who are going to seek to serve God’s people. He says, “The word is faithful: if any one aspires to exercise oversight, he desires a good work” (ch3:1). So anyone who would seek to care for God’s people, anybody who would seek to help them – seek to teach them perhaps, from God’s word – it is a good work, God would help you in it. But there are a lot of qualifications. We must be careful not to bring God’s testimony into disrepute. So there is a whole list of commendable features for those who seek to serve the Lord here. I do not intend to go through them all. We have read them, and most of them are quite straightforward. How we would have been saved from so much if we had listened to these things over the years!
“Not fond of money” (v3) – how important that is!
Having “a good testimony from those without” (v7) – that is a thing to be careful about. In our walk before our neighbours, before our colleagues at work, before our companions at college, before our mates at school – are we different? Can they look at us and say, ‘He is different; she is different. They do not tell lies. They do not take God’s name in vain. They are modest how they dress. They do not do the bad things of the world.’ This is having “a good testimony from those without;” it is testing, but it should mark the believer.
“Not seeking gain by base means” (v8). See what difficulty the world is in today by people who have made gain by base means! What a safeguard there is in God’s word! These qualifications are not written here just to sound nice: they are real, and they are preservative.
And the sisters are included! There is a distinction here between the overseers (v2) and those it speaks of as ministers (v8), or, if you look at the footnote, you will find the word ‘deacons.’ And that reminds us of Stephen and Philip and other deacons that we read of in the Acts – men full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3,5). But the sisters are included with them. If you read through Romans 16, all those dear believers that Paul commends there, you will find that quite a significant number of them are sisters [and see footnote there in v1]. So be encouraged, dear sisters also, to take part in these things. It is a very precious privilege for us all.
So Paul finishes by saying, “These things I write to thee, hoping to come to thee more quickly; but if I delay, in order that thou mayest know how one ought to conduct oneself in God’s house, which is the assembly of the living God, the pillar and base of the truth” (vv14‑15). It is not now Israel – this is Christianity. True Christian believers are those that belong to the assembly of the living God. Paul says it is “the pillar and base of the truth.” God’s truth – real truth. We do not find much real truth in the world, do we? The devil propagates lots of lies in the world. Men are corrupted, “the whole world lies in the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). There is very little of real truth there. But when you come to God’s assembly, God’s Church, that is where God’s truth is known. Only true believers have the secret of it – the world does not understand it, but that is where God’s truth resides. The assembly of the living God is the pillar and base of the truth. What a privilege to belong to it!
Paul goes on, “And confessedly the mystery of piety is great” (v16). What he has just been describing is the way of pious, godly living before God. We have been reading in Daniel and Nehemiah of pious, godly men. Now Paul says, ‘Here are some of the things that are involved in living piously.’ But the mystery of living like that is great. Why do people live piously and uprightly before God? I think that in the rest of the verse he gives us some of the reasons. We have these wonderful insights into divine, revealed truth.
“God has been manifested in flesh.” What a profound truth! That truth is known in the assembly of God, and nowhere else. How that speaks to us of the coming of Jesus into this world! “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). And Who was that Word? “The Word was God,” and “the Word was with God” (John 1:1). There He was, the Saviour of the world, God in His Person, but become Man, “emptied Himself, taking a bondman’s form” (Phil 2:7). All that was to be seen of man in the flesh after Adam had been corrupted and spoilt. When you look at Christ as come into the world in all His perfection, all His moral glory, you see what man should have been before God. He came to reveal what God was. It says, “For the law was given by Moses: grace and truth subsists through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” (John 1:17‑18). Is there not mystery in that verse? How can the Lord be in the bosom of the Father and here on the earth at the same time? Some of these things are beyond our comprehension, and yet they are divinely true. But there was the Lord, in His person one with God, and yet here as Man, revealing what God was, making God known as the Father. God manifest in flesh! So that the Lord could say, “He that has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). When we look at the pathway of Jesus here, doing good, moving amongst men, dispensing the blessing of God, that is what God is like. We sing it sometimes,
God manifest in flesh, O wonder of His universe!
O wisdom all divine! that takes such blessed, lowly ways
The great truth of the coming of jesus is challenged in parts of Christendom. The Lord Jesus in His Person is God, and there He is, God manifest in flesh – Emmanuel – “God with us” (Matt 1:23). Wonderful truth! Oh, the greatness of the Person of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ!
He “has been justified in the Spirit.” What does that mean? I can only give you my impression. But when Jesus was here, everything He did was in the power of the Holy Spirit. You remember, in the beginning of His ministry, He was led of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. You say, ‘Really? Did the Spirit of God lead Him there?’ Well, the word tells us that He did (Luke 4:1‑2). But what comes out of that? How marvellous to see the Lord in every type of temptation – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life – triumphant! How? By quoting the word of God. He used the Scriptures in the power of the Spirit. The Lord knew the word of God through and through, and was able to refute the devil. And so He comes out of that trial a triumphant Man – no sin in Him, One in Whom sin was not (1 John 3:5). What a Saviour! Then He goes about doing good where Satan is the god and prince of this world and has taken captive so many people. How many demon-possessed people came to the Lord for healing? The Lord could say, “If I by the Spirit of God cast out demons” (Matt 12:28). He had the power by the Spirit to deliver people from the authority of darkness. Then there is that profound Scripture – He “by the eternal Spirit offered Himself spotless to God” (Heb 9:14). He goes forward, in the power of the Spirit, in perfect obedience to His Father’s will, filling out “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). Oh yes, wicked men were the instrument of it; but the Lord went forward to death, and offered Himself without spot to God. And the Spirit was with Him in that – “by the eternal Spirit,” it says. Then, following His resurrection and ascension, His disciples are blessed with the coming of the Holy Spirit, and they testify to the truth of these things and the power of the Spirit. Those are just some of the impressions I have as to what might be implied in “Has been justified in the Spirit.”
Then it goes on, “Has appeared to angels.” We know from the Scriptures that the angels desire to look into these things (1 Pet 1:12). We also know from the Scriptures that angels had to do with the coming of the Lord into the world – an angel brought the message to the shepherds (Luke 2:8‑14). And, glorious triumph, the angels had to do with the Lord’s resurrection too – there they were at the tomb to say, “He is not here, but is risen” (Luke 24:6). The angels were being used by God to convey these things. God has not provided redemption for the angels – the fallen angels are reserved for the lake of fire. But for mankind, He has provided the Redeemer. Angels desire to look into these things, and they have taken account of them.
“Has been preached among the nations.” God has seen to it that these things have not just faded away – the glad tidings have been preached. He has given the Spirit to His disciples, and those who witnessed these things went out into the world and preached them, not just to the Jews but amongst the nations. And so it has come to us. “Has been preached among the nations.” This has been done by pious men – men who devoted their lives in service to the Lord. See what an effect those who commit themselves in service to the Lord can have! God has used them to spread the gospel over the whole world. It goes on to say, “Has been believed on in the world.” The gospel has been believed. Although there is much unbelief, the gospel has been believed; and the coming of Jesus into the world has even been recognised and accepted by the world’s system! Look at what has spread out, predominantly from Europe, through the Americas, through Africa, through Australasia and even the eastern world. There has been a vast spreading of Christian truth that has had an influence on world events, and has done much for the blessing of mankind, whether men believe in it or not. Even to this day the most strident atheist, every time he writes a date, testifies to the truth that Jesus Christ has been here, whether he likes it or not! 2009 AD (Anno Domini – Latin for ‘the year of the Lord’) is ‘after Christ.’ Much of the world, with its dating system, recognises that Christ has been here, and He “has been believed on in the world” to that extent. The coming of Jesus into this world has had an effect on the whole history of mankind!
But that is not the end, is it? He “has been received up in glory.” That is where our Saviour is now – in glory. That is where we are looking. We began this afternoon with just a reference to that Scripture in Thessalonians, where they had “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to await His Son from the heavens” (1 Thess 1:9‑10). That is where Jesus is now. So we close with this fact that He “has been received up in glory.” And it is from glory that He is coming for His own. He is coming to take us to be there, to have glorified bodies like unto His body of glory. We are going to a realm of glory! We know only in part now, but we shall know then as we have been known (1 Cor 13:12). What a glorious thing it will be to see the Saviour! Meanwhile, we know from what has been revealed in the word that He has been received up in glory; He has been crowned with glory (Heb 2:9), and has been given a name that is above every name (Phil 2:9); He has sat down in His Father’s throne (Rev 3:21). Stephen saw Him in the realm of glory when he was being martyred (Acts 7:55). Paul the apostle saw something of the outshining of Jesus from the realm of glory (Acts 9:3‑5). That is where He is now! There is so much testimony to where our Saviour is now, and we have the promise, in His own words, that He will come again and receive us to Himself, that where He is we may be also (John 14:3). His prayer to His Father was “that they may behold My glory” (John 17:24) – the glory of the Man Who has come to make God known to us.
Well, these are the end results of walking in piety and service to the Saviour. Does not the end justify that we should commit ourselves to Him afresh to be here in His service, and that we should seek to be apart from this present evil world? That is again the Lord’s prayer, not to take us out of the world, but that we might be preserved from the evil that is in the world (John 17:15). That is the Lord’s prayer on our behalf – let us answer to that with our own desire, and commit ourselves to Him for further service, for His name’s sake.
4 April 2009