My Thoughts Are Not Your Thoughts

There are times in our lives when we are perplexed. We do not know what to think. Something really hard, painful and overwhelming has happened. We find ourselves asking, Why? We feel frightened, hurt, anxious, sad, forsaken, crushed, depressed. Doubts flood into our minds. Is there a God? Am I a Christian? Does he care for me? I can’t cope. Remember God’s word through Isaiah, ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts’ (Is.55:8). Our thoughts are often worldly, materialistic, selfish and limited by the fact that we cannot grasp the whole picture. We fail to see the end, but only the point in the middle where we are struggling. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts’ (v9). How limited is our vision! God takes everything in at once. He assures us ‘All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose’ (Rom.8:28) and ‘all things’ means all things. We view the wrong side of the embroidery and see no pattern but only a tangle of different coloured threads. God sees the full picture. Let’s look at some examples from Scripture to encourage us.

‘All these things are against me’

These were the words of Jacob when he was going through the blackest experience of his life (Gen.42:36). From a human point of view things couldn’t get worse, but as God saw it all these things were for him and the best day of his life was just round the corner. True, Joseph appeared to be dead. He had seen the blood-covered coat of many colours and had heard nothing more for twenty years. True, there was a famine in the land and they seemed to be in danger of starving. True, Simeon his son was in prison in Egypt. True, the lord of Egypt required his beloved Benjamin to be presented to him before Simeon would be freed and they receive any more food. True, their money was returned with their sacks so that it could be construed that they had stolen the food from Egypt. But, Jacob, lift up your eyes. Remember Joseph’s dreams. God’s word will not return to Him void. There is a purpose in all that has happened and you will discover anew My unconditional love for you. My thoughts are not your thoughts.

‘The arrows of the Almighty are within me’

Job cries out in distress (Job 6:4). He feels that he is a target. Does God not take pleasure in hurting him? The arrows surely are dipped in poison, and death is now in his veins and moving through his body. How else can things be explained from Job’s point of view? He had 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen and 500 she asses and in one day they were all stolen or destroyed in a series of calamities. Then he had news that his whole family of seven sons and three daughters were wiped out in a freak accident. His skin came out in boils. His wife told him to curse God and die. His friends accused him of some horrid secret sin that caused God to punish him. Everyone regarded him with contempt. Surely God hated him? But no, rather Job’s latter end was better than his beginning. He lived for another 140 years and died in glory and wealth and triumph. My thoughts are not your thoughts.

‘Call me not Naomi, call me Mara’

Few women experience the grief through which Naomi went. She left Judah in a time of famine to sojourn in Moab with her husband and two sons. But her husband died in that foreign land. Her two sons married but before long they too passed away. She returns a poor widow to Bethlehem. ‘Call me not Naomi (pleasantness), call me Mara (bitterness): for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty … the Lord hath testified against me and the Almighty hath afflicted me’ (Ruth 1:20-21). Any bereavement is hard on flesh and blood, but think of Naomi’s treble. But the journey to Moab was not in vain. She brought back someone who would be better to her than seven sons, one of God’s precious elect saved from heathen darkness to be a mother of our Saviour. My thoughts are not your thoughts.

‘How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord?’

The Psalmist certainly felt forgotten and forsaken (Ps.13:1). God does not seem to know what is going on, or if He does know He does not care. Surely God is hiding from him! His enemy is exalted over him and prospering. The Psalmist feels he cannot go on. He trusted in God and nothing happened. His prayers are not answered and there is no deliverance. Yet in the last verse the Psalmist cries, ‘I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me’. God had not forgotten him. Deliverance came at last. My thoughts are not your thoughts.

‘I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul’

David feels that surely Saul will catch him one of these days (1Sam.27:1). He has had so many near escapes it must be just a matter of time. Saul hates him and is determined to destroy him. But David is the Lord’s anointed. Samuel has prophesied concerning him that he will be the next king. God’s word never fails. Surely God has kept him up till now, can keep him and will keep him. But David doubts. He uses his own wisdom and goes down to the uncircumcised Achish king of Gath for safety, but it is almost the end of him. When Ziklag was burnt and the women and children taken captive David’s own men plotted to kill him. In great danger, David had to encourage himself in the Lord. He eventually became king. He must, because God said it. My thoughts are not your thoughts.

‘I had great bitterness’

Hezekiah was deeply troubled (Is.38:17). Isaiah had said to him, ‘Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live’ (v1). But he thought, I am still only a young man, I have no family, I have tried as best I could to serve God and here I am cut off in mid life. A dark cloud of depression came over him. He turned away from man, faced the wall and prayed. God in His good plan gave him another fifteen years. My thoughts are not your thoughts.

‘Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?’

John the Baptist was perplexed (Mt.11:3). He was in prison, never a comfortable situation. Things did not work out as he expected. Art thou the Messiah? Why do you not deliver me? Why am I suffering so much? My thoughts are not your thoughts. Jesus was indeed John’s Saviour. However frightened, perplexed, depressed you are, remember God knows what He is doing. His word and promises will not return void. Your ways are not His ways, but be sure of this, all who trust in Him ‘shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace’ (Is.55:12).

David’s Repentance (2Sam.12)

David sinned by committing adultery and then the cover-up. What a sad picture of that great man of God is presented to us. But we must beware. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1Cor.10:12). Satan is cunning and knows where and how to attack. The world is seductive and indwelling sin leaves us feeble. In humility “watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt.26:41). A few moments’ pleasure can produce years of trouble.

God is Angry

What David did displeased the Lord (2Sam.11:27). The king forgot that there is a higher King to whom he was answerable. He quietened his conscience with excuses and Satan’s lies. Surely it’s just a little sin, but the only little sin is a sin against a little God. It’s a wonderful thing to please God. This is the whole purpose of our existence. But it is an awful thing to make God angry. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God … For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb.10:31; 12:29). Some think that because “God is love” (1Jn.4:8) He would not hurt a flea, but He hurts David very sorely. Scripture makes plain, “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” and “no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous” (Heb.12:6,11).

Between the date of his sin and that of his repentance David was not a happy man. He says “My bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long: for day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer” (Ps.32:3-4). This is a picture of the deadness, coldness and hardness of heart that David felt. His peace, joy and assurance were gone. It was difficult for him to pray and in contrast with the past he found no enjoyment in worship. This period would be more than nine months because the child of adultery was born before the repentance came. Have you forsaken your first love (Rev.2:4) and are you seeking satisfaction from the broken cisterns which can hold no real living water (Jer.2:13)?

God is good to David

David is not left in a backslidden state. God cares and so brings back the lost sheep to the fold. Nathan is sent with a parable. A poor man had one little lamb which he loved and treated as his daughter. His rich neighbour having a visitor, grudged to kill one of his own sheep and instead slaughtered and cooked the poor man’s lamb for his guest. The king’s sense of justice was outraged and he quickly decided on the death of the rich man and a fourfold restitution to the poor man. Nathan responded with a hammer blow, “Thou art the man”. David had been the youngest son, the shepherd boy, yet God had chosen him. Initially he felt unworthy to be the king’s son-in-law. Marvellously protected from Saul’s javelins, surviving many traps he now has his master’s house and wives and throne. How good God has been to him yet he despised God’s commandments, killed Uriah and took his wife! Think of your sins in the light of God’s goodness to you.

God Punishes

What trouble David’s sin brought upon himself and his family. He did not die and was forgiven, yet the pain he and others suffered was immense.

  • Although David himself will not die the sword will not depart from his house for ever. Amnon, David’s eldest son, is killed by Absalom his brother. Absalom dies in a revolt against his father. David’s surprisingly great grief at Absalom’s death is because he felt his own sin was the cause for this tragedy: “Would God that I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son” (2Sam.18:33). Adonijah, another son, dies for rebellion against Solomon. Zechariah cried out with regard to David’s greatest son Jesus “Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd” (Zech.13:7).
  • Evil would arise out of his own house. Amnon incestuously forced his sister Tamar. Absalom lay with his father’s wives. David did it secretly but Absalom did it before all Israel and before the sun.
  • The child born to Bathsheba dies.
  • All will know and talk about what David did. The cover-up was a total failure.

David’s Repentance

For months David suffered from a guilty conscience yet hardened his heart. God could have left him to perish in his sins but God loves His people: “What son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye are without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons” (Heb.12:7-8). David has now confessed his sin. He makes plain that he sees his sin as not merely against Uriah: “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned”. In faith he pleads the blood of Christ for pardon “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean” (Ps.51:4,7). God has forgiven him yet he still suffers. He had given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme and God must clear His own and His church’s name. David must continue to feel the pain of his sin so that he will truly hate sin. Some think that if they confess and repent the matter is closed but this is not always the case. Here chastisement follows true penitence. The child becomes ill. David watches it suffer. He fasts and prays with great earnestness hoping in the mercy of God that the child will be spared. But the child dies after seven days of suffering. The servants fear to tell David but when he realises what has happened he arises, washes, dresses and goes into the house of the Lord to worship. He is reconciled to the will of the Lord. He knows that he has suffered less than he deserves. He comforts Bathsheba his wife. She has another child, Solomon, and the Lord loved him and called him Jedidiah. Things will never be the same again but yet there is hope, for “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom.5:20).

David’s Sin

Living in a world full of temptations, constantly attacked by Satan and seriously weakened by the “flesh” (indwelling corruption), there is much that we can and ought to learn from David’s sin (2Sam.11). Surely it is the third most infamous sin, after the crucifixion of Christ and Adam’s fall? David, who is described as a man after God’s own heart, showed amazing faith in confronting Goliath, his Psalms display deep devotion, he is a type of Christ and father of the Messiah, yet he brings much misery upon himself, his family and his country. Sin is easy and disastrous.

David’s Sin

Avoiding the war He stayed at home when the Lord’s people went out to fight. All men of God are to be soldiers. They must follow the Captain of the host into the battle and make no treaty with the enemy. The church militant is involved in an ongoing campaign against all evil. Fighting for the King, His crown and glory, they strive to bring all nations and individuals into subjection to Him. Leaving the war to others David showed that his love for God was growing cold.

Forgetting the soldiers His love for God’s people was also in decline. The soldiers were fighting and dying but the king is on his bed. He has a long siesta, gets up in the evening and walks lazily on the flat roof of the palace. He ought to have been praying for the war and busily involved in the affairs of state. The sheep are in danger but the shepherd is sleeping.

Watch and pray Satan goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Sometimes he comes as an angel of light to deceive. We are constantly warned to be on our guard. Satan always finds things for idle hands to do. But David sleeps and then walks lazily on the roof. He has forgotten that he is involved in spiritual warfare.

Temptation Some guilt can be laid on the woman. She was not as careful as she could have been. She washed herself in full view of the palace. Perhaps she was proud of her beautiful body and happy to show it off. Some women are unaware of how tempting the way they dress and behave can be to men. We live today in a ‘vanity fair’ where tempting the opposite sex is considered praiseworthy but God loves modesty.

David sees The lust of the flesh is fed through the eyes. 80% of the information we gather comes through them. Lust when it has conceived brings forth sin. Jesus warns: “If thy right eye offend thee [cause you to sin], pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Mt.5:29). Drastic action is required. David when he spotted this woman should have turned away immediately, indeed run for his life. We are warned to flee from idols and we should also flee from lusts. Joseph when similarly tempted fled leaving his coat behind.

David’s conscience We can imagine that voice inside him saying, ‘Don’t look! Turn away!’ Yet David may have argued that there was nothing wrong with looking and admiring the beauty which God has created. David thinks it would be interesting to find out who she is. His conscience would warn him not to ask but to busy himself with something else. David decides that he would like to meet and talk to her. There would be nothing sinful in that, he argues.

It goes too far Reject the voice of conscience, play with sin and temptation and before long you will be ensnared. Satan and the flesh will suggest many excuses: ‘It’s just a little sin. It’s not really hurting anyone. No one need find out. It’s just a meaningless act. Others are doing it. I am the king, I can do what I like’.

David’s cover-up

God sees what has happened. Things start to go wrong. The woman conceived. If only at this point David had repented, confessed his sin to the Lord and pleaded for mercy. Sadly the sin was made a thousand times worse by the cover-up and that led to great suffering for himself and others.

Sends for Uriah David enquires of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah how the war is going but his interest is not in the war. He then sends Uriah to his home followed by a feast. But Uriah is a godly man. In comparison to David he was a nobody yet in this matter he is an outstanding example of the man of God. His attitude is quite different from David’s. He sleeps with the servants at the palace door. David asks him the next day why he did not return home. He replies that while God’s people are engaged in warfare and sleeping in the open fields he will not go to his house, feast and lie with his wife. He is a soldier of the Lord.

Made him drunk How wicked it is of the King! He tries to break down Uriah’s moral strength with alcohol. But again it does not work. Uriah sleeps the next night also with the servants.

A letter David writes to Joab the commander, telling him to set Uriah in the forefront of the army and then to retreat from him so that he will be killed. He then gives the letter, this death sentence, to Uriah to carry to Joab. How cynical! He cannot bring himself to slay the godly Uriah so he will get the Ammonites to do it and he forgets God.

What a witness Joab was a ruthless and wicked man. Had he not killed Abner in cold blood and later murdered Amasa? You can imagine Joab reading the letter and having a little sneer to himself: ‘So what is old David up to now? Aha, he is not so holy after all!’ What a disgrace to the cause of God and all for the sake of saving David’s pride!

Uriah dies Joab sends a messenger back to David. He tells the king that there has been considerable loss of life in the war in that while chasing the enemy they were shot upon from the wall. Joab adds that if David is angry at the loss of life and the tactical mistake made, tell him that Uriah is dead and that will soon quieten him. How sad!

David’s response When he hears that Uriah is dead he hides a smile and responds philosophically “The sword devoureth one as well as another”. Everything has been subjected to one concern, the cover-up.

Marriage Uriah’s wife hears of the death of her husband and mourns for him. He had been a faithful husband. No doubt the sense of guilt in her conscience added to her sorrow. After the period of her mourning is over David sends for her and she becomes his wife and the child is born but what David did displeased the Lord.

You fool!

Have you ever been called a fool? Many of us have, at one time or another. It’s a horrid term. No one wants to be thought of as foolish. It makes a difference, of course, if the person giving you that name is in earnest or just joking. Also it is significant whether the person calling you a fool is someone whom you respect. The greater the person describing you in that way and the more serious they are in doing so, the more devastating it is. Jesus once spoke of a man to whom God said “Thou fool” (Lk.12:20). He is speaking of a very successful farmer. What makes him a fool? Are you a fool?

Covetousness

The context here is covetousness. One of the crowd pleaded with Jesus to speak to his brother to divide the inheritance with him. How often families fall out over their parents’ will! Brothers and sisters who used to get on so well are now at each other’s throats because John got the house or Jane was left the money that James felt should have come to him. How pathetic to see the tears of grief over a sad bereavement turn so quickly to hatred! We can all think of families where lasting barriers have arisen over a few pounds.
Money was terribly important to this man in Luke 12. Some of the crowd came to Jesus for healing from their leprosy, or for curing of their paralysis or for opening their blind eyes. They had serious bodily illnesses or disabilities. These were pressing needs which sin had brought into the world. Others came for something even more important, the salvation of their souls. But here is a man who came to Jesus for mere material things because he was jealous that his brother had been left everything and he had been left nothing. The Tenth Commandment says “Thou shalt not covet”. Basically covetousness is the “love of money” which Paul describes as the “root of all evil” (1Tim.6:10). In the Sermon on the Mount Christ says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt.6:33). Spiritual needs are far more important than to be wealthy in worldly terms. There is more to life than money, far more.
Our Lord tells a parable about a man who longed to be rich. He envied his wealthy neighbours. He worked very hard. At last he made it. He obtained a huge harvest. He had earned his fortune. Now he could retire and relax and enjoy his hard earned wealth. But God said to him, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?” Are you like this fool?

Selfish Pleasure

He speaks to himself and says: “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry”. How terribly worldly! Why do people put such value on money? It’s because they see it as the key to happiness. With money I can own a beautiful house, the most luxurious of furnishings, the most modern of appliances and have an enchanting landscaped garden. If I am rich I can have a flashy car, designer clothes, eat out whenever I choose in the best of restaurants, join the most exclusive clubs, enjoy the best entertainment and go on the most exotic holidays. Here is a man who feels he has arrived. All he had ever longed for is in his grasp. Money brings certain happiness, or does it? The more you have the greater is your responsibility to use it for the good of others. Money is a burden bestowed by God upon people and for which they will have to answer at the Judgment Seat. This man says to himself “Be merry” but God says “Thou fool”.

No Thought of Death

God says to him “This night thy soul shall be required of thee”. “But I am only sixty-five, I’m only fifty-five, I’m only forty, and some live till they are a hundred”. Yes, and some die before twenty. Although we can immediately think of people we know who passed away in their teens, the fool in our heart says to us that we are going to live to a ripe old age. Not a day is guaranteed to us here. James writes of a merchant who says “Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy, and sell, and get gain: whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow” (Jas.4:13-14). Death is only a breath away. Are you a fool living as if you were going to be here forever?

No Preparation for Eternity

This man had much goods laid up for many years – for this life. He had savings, life assurance policies, substantial pension provisions, but he would enjoy none of them. Who would get what he left? He was crossing the Jordan of death into a new country where he would be homeless and penniless forever. One must be sensible in providing for one’s old age, but how much more must we provide for the never-ending eternity? Here is a man who lived for this world, for his job, success and pleasures. He dies and ends up in hell. He had planned for a heaven here, but never got his heaven here nor in the next world. He has eternity to regret his failure to lay up for himself treasure in heaven. The rich man of Luke 16 was “clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day” (v19). When he died he opened his eyes in hell and immediately became conscious of a terrific thirst that made him long for a drop of water to cool his tongue in the torment of the flame. “Fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee” and are you prepared?

Holiness

God loves holiness “without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb.12:14). But what is it? Essentially, obedience. It is the opposite of sin. The Bible defines sin as “transgression of the law” (1Jn.3:4). “By the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom.3:20), and “without the law sin was dead” (Rom.7:8). Where there is no law there is no sin.

Why are we seeing such low levels of holiness in our day?

One reason is that there is an over-emphasis on justification by faith to the detriment of sanctification. Luther is often wrongly quoted in this regard. He initially tried hard to save himself by keeping the commandments and punishing himself when he didn’t. Eventually he reached the end of his resources and, when despairing, discovered that “the just shall live by faith” (Rom.1:17). The church of his day had taught the depressing heresy of justification by works but Luther now filled with joy became the great Reformer. “Justification by faith alone” was the watchword of the Reformation. However the Scriptures also teach that having been justified the child of God will show his appreciation for God’s grace by striving to keep the commandments and doing good works. Indeed James makes this point starkly when he states that “by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (Jam.2:24). The saving nature of a man’s faith and hence his justification is displayed by his sanctified life. “Faith without works is dead” (Jam.2:20) and useless. Luther battled hard with sin and in several places in his writings gave expositions of the commandments which show the emphasis which he placed on the Christian duty to obey God’s law. There is something far wrong if our doctrine of justification is an excuse for sin, deadens our consciences and leaves us at peace as we wallow deeper in sin.

A second reason for the low levels of holiness in our day is that definitive sanctification is emphasised at the expense of progressive sanctification. Definitive sanctification is the radical break with sin which takes place when a person is born again. In a moment an individual changes from being a sinner into a saint. Paul speaks of this change in Romans 6 where he describes the Christian as having died with Christ to the old life and risen to a new life. He exhorts: “Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom.6:11). The change which has occurred should not leave us complacent but rather encourage us to progress in sanctification. Someone who takes comfort from their sainthood while living a wicked life has no right even to consider himself to be a Christian. True Christians “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” and they “through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body” (Rom.8:4,13).

A third reason for the low level of holiness today is the belief that because we are no longer under the law we are not duty bound to keep the moral law. Paul argues “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?” (Gal.4:21). This law is bondage and he says “Cast out the bond woman and her son” (v30). Traditionally theologians have divided the law into three categories: the civil law (laws of the kingdom of Israel), the ceremonial law (referring to sacrifices and ritual) and the moral law (summarised in the Ten Commandments). Nowadays this division has been questioned. It is argued that this division is not Scriptural and that there is only one law of God which has now been abrogated. Yet, while the terms “civil” and “ceremonial” and “moral” are not used in the Bible, the concepts they refer to are certainly there. Even in Old Testament times God said: “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1Sam.15:22). The moral law had a priority over the ceremonial law. Civil laws were obviously tied in closely to the kingdom of Israel which has passed. The new Israel is the church. Jesus made plain that He came not to destroy the law but to fulfil it. He fulfilled the moral law in keeping the commandments for us. He fulfilled the ceremonial law by dying on the cross as our sacrifice. In case any should think that the moral law was no longer binding Jesus states: “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt.5:19). Paul asks: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law” (Rom.3:31). The fact that the moral law is still binding is clear from Paul’s restating of it: “Thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not kill etc” (Rom.13:9). Christians are no longer bound by the ceremonial law. It passed away with Christ’s fulfilment of its types and shadows. When Paul states “we are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom.6:15) he means that we are not under the law as a covenant of works, as a way of earning salvation. Rather we are “under grace” Christ having kept the law for us and giving us salvation as a gift.

What is the continuing place of the law?

1. In Society. It shows the way we should live. There is no better pattern of life than the moral law. Governments are meant to be a terror to evil works (Rom.13:3). It is a blessed society that follows this code of morals.

2. In the Unbeliever. The law convicts of sin and shows a man his guilt and need of a Saviour. It threatens God’s judgment upon him. In this way the law is “our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal.3:24). Law work is necessary to repentance and there is no faith without it. It even operates in the Christian in this way too, forcing us more and more on Christ.

3. In the Christian. The moral law is the pattern for our lives. While not justified by our works we show our justification and express our thanksgiving to God for his grace by our obedience to the moral law. “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (Jn.14:15). The true Christian delights “in the law of God after the inward man” (Rom.7:22). “Shall we sin, because we are not under the law but under grace? God forbid” (Rom.6:15). We once were the servants of sin but now we have been set free to serve God. Crucified to the old life we now long to be holy like our heavenly Father. The moral law describes God’s character.

The Lord’s Supper

There is tremendous confusion on this subject throughout the Christian world. What ought to be a means of grace and a real spiritual blessing often becomes a curse through misuse. In one sense this should not surprise us. Even in New Testament times Paul had to say to the Corinthian Church, “Ye come together not for the better, but for the worse” (1Cor.11:17). He noted that because they were participating in the Lord’s Supper in the wrong way, “many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (v30). A considerable number of them died under the chastisement of God.

Divisions

A major problem in Corinth was the divisions. Reference is made to this in chapter 1. Indeed it is the first matter mentioned after the initial greeting. Some said, “I am of Paul”, others “I am of Apollos” and others “I am of Cephas” (1Cor.1:12). The Apostle asks, “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptised in the name of Paul?” (1:13). Communion is meant to be a feast of love. It is about the oneness of the body of Christ. The church should be distinguished by love: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (Jn.13:35). Yet on the other hand there is an inevitability about divisions: “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you” (1Cor.11:19). It is God’s plan to allow false doctrines and practices to arise so that people will be tested. Who is on the Lord’s side? Those guilty of the division are those who introduce the wickedness into the church, not those who stand against the evil.

Worldly Supper

The attitude of some in approaching communion is terribly carnal and earthly. It was so in the early church: “In eating everyone taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry and another is drunken” (1Cor.11:21). It is no wonder that God was angry. People brought their own supper with them and yet called it the Lord’s Supper. The poor were hungry. Some overindulged and were drunk. People should eat at home. The poor should not be shamed in this way and left standing watching. Drunkenness is a sin. We would be surprised to see someone drunk at the Table. Yet are there not many who come to the Lord’s Table with as little thought and preparation as someone coming to any ordinary meal? We eat only a mouthful of bread and wine to emphasise that this is a spiritual feast. We must see behind the symbols and by faith feed upon Christ, otherwise we are treating the Supper just as our own supper.

This is My Body

“The Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me” (11:23-24). But in what sense is it His body? The Roman Catholic teaching is that once the priest has blessed the bread it literally becomes the flesh of Christ. To the human senses it looks, feels, smells and tastes like bread yet it is really meat. To us this is nonsense yet to Roman Catholicism it is vital. The individual who partakes receives benefit whatever his thoughts, attitude or understanding, and whether he has faith or not. Those who carefully interpret Scripture with Scripture see clearly that this is wrong. Jesus is talking in symbolic and figurative terms as He often does. The broken bread symbolises the body of Christ broken on the cross for us. The wine symbolises the blood of Christ, which is His life given for us. By faith we must discern the Lord’s body in the symbols and feed upon Him. The sacrament actually brought pain and sickness upon many of the Corinthians. There is no blessing whatsoever in the sacrament unless the individual participant exercises faith in Christ and so feeds upon His finished work.

Who is to take the Sacrament?

The Lord’s Supper is for the Lord’s people. It is for those who are converted, who have been born again and have turned their back upon their sinful past and by grace are living for God. Only such can remember the Lord’s death with gratitude and can properly show it forth. Those whom Jesus has loved and redeemed by His death, are the only ones who will delight in remembering the Lord’s death. They yearn in anticipation “till he come”. For the unregenerate, the death of Christ will contribute to their further condemnation. We are to examine ourselves to discover if we are true Christians and only then to come to His Table. It is interesting however to note that the Apostle says, “Let a man examine himself and so let him eat” (v28). He does not say let a man examine himself and so stay away from the Table. The implication is that having examined himself, if he finds that he is not converted he should immediately turn to the Lord with all his heart. Having been converted he is now ready to come to the Table. Self examination is often stressed in Scripture, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves” (2Cor.13:5).

Unworthily

There is a great warning in the Bible against coming to the Table unworthily. Such a person is “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” and “eateth and drinketh damnation to himself” (vv27,30). But who is worthy to sit at the Lord’s Table? None of us in and of ourselves. We are all poor sinners who deserve nothing but the wrath and curse of God forever. Yet worthy is the Lamb. We come as sinners cleansed in the blood. However it is important to notice that the word used here is the adverb “unworthily” and not the adjective “unworthy”. It is not describing the person but rather the manner of his coming and partaking. The Corinthians were coming unworthily because they were treating it as their own supper, some were hungry and others were drunk. They were failing to understand what the Supper meant and that they were by faith to receive spiritual blessings. The divisions among them caused bitterness, anger and jealousy in their hearts. The unity and love which should have characterised them was missing and so they were desecrating the Lord’s Table and suffering for it.

What benefit?

The Table should strengthen our faith by encouraging us to feed on Christ. He is portrayed before us. We are clearly reminded of what He did for us. The sacrament is kept in conjunction with the preaching of the Word which proclaims Christ’s person and work. We give thanks for His death. Confessing our faith before men we are strengthened. Christ is our food. Our love for the Lord and for our fellow-Christians is increased. Our hope of heaven is encouraged.
Judge yourself so that you will not be judged (v31). Make sure that when you come together around His Table it is for the better and not for the worse (v17).

Conversion is a Massive Change

It is plain that many people today regard becoming a Christian as little more than taking up a new hobby. It involves some extras added onto their lives. They remain what they have always been but have some new beliefs and practices. They now make a profession of faith. Yet neighbours and people at work do not notice any difference. This cannot be right. Jesus spoke of a new birth and Paul of a new creation. In fact a Christian is as different from the unconverted as a living person is from a dead corpse. Sadly increasing numbers deceive themselves and sit at the Lord’s table when they have never experienced the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. This is seriously weakening evangelical churches.

A Church Planted

Paul came to Europe to preach. His first stopping place was Philippi. There a number of true conversions took place and because of that persecution began. Paul having been beaten and imprisoned had to leave. Coming next to Thessalonica, he preached for three Sabbaths in the Synagogue. Again there was a riot and he had to leave. Yet a church was planted and remained. Paul sent two letters to them to encourage them to remain steadfast in the face of continuing trials and persecutions.

They are God’s Elect

“Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God” (1Thess.1:4). It is something truly wonderful to be chosen before you were born, indeed before the world was created or time began. This election was obviously irrespective of anything they did but also of anything they would do. With reference to the children of Rebekah it was said: “The children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of him that calleth…Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated” (Rom.9:11-13). “Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom.8:29). It is not that He knew something about them but He knew them. He freely set His knowledge and love upon them before they were born. It is a great privilege to be amongst those whom the Father elected and for whom Christ died. Are you one of them? How can I know? The evidence will be seen in your life.

Power

It was perfectly clear to the Apostle that the Thessalonians were elected because of the power with which the Gospel came to them (1Thess.1:5). There are many people and the Gospel, Sunday after Sunday, makes no impression on them. They leave unmoved. But there are others and they are stopped in their tracks. The Gospel comes to them with a power which they cannot resist. Sadly we do not see much of this today but thankfully we occasionally still witness it.

Holy Ghost

The work of the Holy Spirit is to apply the redemption purchased by Christ. The Gospel is the “power of God unto salvation” (Rom.1:16) and yet the Gospel itself has no power. It is only when the Spirit accompanies the Word that it is powerful and indeed irresistible. Without Him no one will be born again. The new birth is being born of the Spirit. When the Spirit is present, lives are transformed. The Spirit only works savingly in the elect and so His work in Thessalonica was evidence of the election of these Thessalonians.

Much Assurance

This again is the work of the Spirit. He convinces the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment to come. He convinced the Thessalonians of the truth of the Gospel so that they could not just brush it off. When they were converted His work continued assuring them of their salvation. “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom.8:16).

Became Followers

In the Island of Lewis the name “follower” is used for a new Christian and it is a good name. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Is.53:6). But now things are different. Instead of following their own lusts and passions they are following the Good Shepherd. There is a direction to their lives and it is the opposite of what it used to be. They are now followers of the Lord. Yes there are afflictions and persecutions but in it all there is also the joy of the Holy Ghost (1Thess1:6).

Models

“Ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia” (1Thess.1:7). By word, they have spread the gospel message. But also their lives are preaching. Everyone, everywhere, is talking about the marvellous change that has taken place. They had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven” (vv.9-10). The change referred to here is not a mere decision taken in their own strength. Neither is it simply a reform of their lives. It was a huge powerful transformation. This is conversion and this is what we need to see in our churches. Mere numbers on a communion roll is no evidence of God’s blessing. Indeed it could well be a curse because it weakens the church by adding dross to it. Further, the individuals concerned are in great danger because they think that they are Christians when they are not. Have you experienced this change?