1 Peter 2: 13-25, 3: 8-16,
Philippians 3: 8-21
3 John 1-14
At the end of the last reading we had reference to the matter of witness and the Lord speaking about the Spirit witnessing to Him; and that we are to be His witnesses. We are to bear witness as well; witness is really another word for testimony. The word testimony is one we use a lot, and we may wonder what it means. Well, I think very simply it means Christ - it is something where Christ is seen. And the question that I have is whether I am in the testimony or not. This is a very important question for each one of us to answer and seek to understand, whether or not we are in the testimony. The testimony is going on somewhere in some and, beloved, I want to be among them. We would credit all here in the room with wanting to be among them. The testimony is not just attending meetings. You can attend meeting and not be in the testimony. To be in the testimony, beloved, we must be like Christ, not just know about Him, but be like Him. That is how Christ comes into expression and how He is witnessed to. The testimony is there, where Christ is, where He is borne testimony to, because of what is there substantially in persons like you and me.
Well, how do we become like the Lord Jesus Christ? The obvious answer that we would all probably immediately say, and it is right to say it, is that we need to be occupied with Him. That is the first thing, and to feed upon Him. So, in the four gospels, you have the wonderful opening up and exemplification of all the features that God found pleasurable in a Man, in the Lord Jesus Christ. What a testimony is there in the gospels. We can read the Scriptures and see it illustrated for us tangibly there. In the epistles we have teaching. In the book of the Acts we have the actual establishment of the testimony substantially here in persons. The unfolding of the truth comes out in the epistles, but in the gospels you have the illustration of it. You see it there in a Man, a glorious Man. He is the One we want to be like. There was a brother my age locally with us who was taken to be with the Lord in December this past year. The last thing I remember him saying in his preaching was that he wanted to be like Jesus. Is that your desire, beloved? Do you want to be like Jesus, or are you content with being like you are?
I thought it might be helpful to see practically some features from these three apostles in addition to being occupied with the Lord Jesus Christ. We can really get hold of something if we see it in persons. And I think in these persons, Peter, Paul and John, you see the testimony of Christ worked out. There are also some very wonderful thoughts that they bring in that I would like to refer to, but the primary thing that I want to speak about is imitation and modelling. In some ways, the idea of imitation may seem a negative thought to us. There are those that imitate things that are not right. They are like play actors; but that is not what God has in mind. He has in mind imitating what is good and what is right, as we have in Peter. Peter, as we know, is the one who brings in the truth of the kingdom of God. So in these passages we have subjection and suffering. If we want to be like Christ, these matters must be understood and entered into by us. I like Peter because he was prepared to be adjusted. He subjected himself to what was right. He brings in this truth of being subject to every human institution. He goes on and speaks about the relationships between husband and wife. What I wanted to touch on was that he brings in this truth of subjection, and links it with suffering. I believe that it is important for us to understand that the enemy is working in the public arena at the present time, to break down every feature of what is morally right. Beloved young people, you will face it in your work life or your home life, but especially I think as we go out and have to do with men in the world. There are principles working, things that are against what is right, real wickedness, that we have to face. And how do we face them? It is in not simply by being subject to principles but it is by standing positively for what is right. It means saying with a good conscience that I cannot go along with what is not right instead of taking the easy road out and just going along with the crowd. Beloved, we need to stand for what is right. Regardless of what everyone else does, we need to do what is right. The attacks against the institution of marriage and all that is coming in publicly at the present time in relation to that are a very serious matter. Standing for what is right is not engaging men in public debate, but is maintaining a good conscience and seeking to honour the Lord.
It will involve suffering for the Lord’s name’s sake. I feel that the Lord is speaking to us about the suffering, perhaps not bodily suffering, but suffering for righteousness’ sake. The Lord suffered at the hands of men for righteousness’ sake and we need to be prepared for that in the public setting and in our localities. We were referring to the matter of fellowship and these things come in subtly. We can talk about the truth and understand it mentally, but the real practical working out of it is another thing as you stand for what is right, not dogmatically asserting the truth, but in a very humble way submitting to the Lord in the circumstances in which He places you in your locality, in your home and in your work place. And in doing so God will come in and give you support. Here in this passage we read that we are called to suffer. That is, it is not something that just happens to us; it involves divine intent that we should suffer. It is as we are true to the name of the Lord, and suffering for righteousness’ sake, that we will be sustained and kept in it. Peter brings in the example of the Lord Himself. He says the Lord Jesus is a model, that is, He is a copy to write from, someone you can follow and see. Here is One who always did what was right. Peter would insist on this, not just that it is there in Christ, but that it should be in us as well.
So he goes on in chapter 3, after referring to subjection and suffering, to say “be all of one mind, sympathising, full of brotherly love, tender hearted, humble minded; not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing; but on the contrary, blessing others, because ye have been called to this, that ye should inherit blessing”. Is that not something? We have been called to blessing. Are we blessing others? We do not want to be a burden or a care; we want to be a blessing. Have you been a blessing? You can be a blessing by doing good. So he says, “suffer for righteousness’ sake”, not being afraid of what other people will think. As we are growing up, we begin to be concerned with what others will think. Well, what we need to be concerned about is what the Lord Jesus will think. And to consider for Him, and as you do so, He will come in and stand by you in relation to what you are going through. You may be ostracised but He will stand by you and give you the courage to go forward. So Peter says, “sanctify the Lord the Christ in your hearts, and be always prepared to give an answer to every one that asks you to give an account of the hope that is in you, but with meekness and fear”. We are not required to argue with people and confront people but we would in meekness and fear speak about the hope that is within us. Beloved, do we have that hope in us that we can give expression to?
If we turn to Paul in Philippians, he is another example and he brings before us the great truth of the assembly of God. The two things that I wanted to speak about briefly with regards to Paul are his preparedness to suffer the loss of all that he might gain Christ, and his heavenly-mindedness. That is what is to be imitated from this scripture. Paul refers to those who were walking in the same way as he was - that is pursuing the heavenly calling, the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus. Have you set yourself for that, and will you become one who is going in that direction, that persons can follow in the same steps? That is how the fellowship works out in practical terms, as you find others that you can go on with. How encouraging this is that Paul speaks about, that he counted “all things as loss on account of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, on account of whom I have suffered the loss of all, and count them to be filth, that I may gain Christ”. He was set that he wanted Christ and nothing else. Beloved, is that your desire? Is that my desire? Do not be content with mediocrity and just leaving things the way they are. I think that the Lord would encourage us through examples like this to go in for these things and to pursue. Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained…. but I pursue”. He says, “As many therefore as are perfect, let us be thus minded” - as those that are mature - “and if ye are any otherwise minded, this also God shall reveal to you”. In other words, it will become apparent. “But whereto we have attained, let us walk in the same steps. Be imitators all together of me, brethren, and fix your eyes on those walking thus as you have us for a model”. So Paul was saying that you can see persons that are going on rightly, and you and I probably know such persons, perhaps in our families or in our meeting that are going on rightly. Beloved, imitate what is right in them. Do not fixate upon what you may perceive as wrong, but see what is of Christ and link on with it and go on with it. So he goes on to say here, “for many walk of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is the belly, and their glory in their shame, who mind earthly things”. The contrast that Paul presents is between those who are heavenly-minded and those who are earthly-minded. That becomes apparent by the way persons live. We should be encouraged to live here as those who are pilgrims and strangers. It struck me recently in reading through Deuteronomy how often God speaks about the stranger, and He speaks about loving the stranger. I think that is something that is very precious, that we should love and be encouraged in relation to persons who are set for the Lord in such a way that they do not have anything here, but they are set in relation to another world and that is what Paul brings before us. So that is the imitation of Paul.
Next we have John, who brings before us the family of God. Peter brings out the kingdom of God, Paul brings out the assembly of God, and John brings out the family of God. One of the persons John speaks of in this context is Gaius. This beloved brother was another person who exemplified features of Christ to be taken up by us as relating to the matter of hospitality - doing good in that way. If I could just say, I think it is something we need to be encouraged in. Gaius entertained persons who came to him and John commends him for doing so. He says, “We therefore ought to receive such, that we may be fellow-workers with the truth”. These types of meetings are very encouraging and it is good to see the brethren together in this way, but let us not forget the matter of travelling amongst the brethren; seeing how the saints get on in their own setting and proving this matter of hospitality. Being like Christ involves how He would do things and Gaius understood that. It says in another passage that he was the “host … of the whole assembly”, Rom 16: 23. He took care of persons. I think there is nothing like being in one another’s company to build each other up and to encourage our hearts together. We see each other at these meetings and that is good, but it is also good to get around amongst the brethren generally and across the globe too. There are some areas that get a lot of visitors only at certain times of the year. I think the Lord would encourage us to go when there is no one else around, when you can bring in encouragement, help and blessing to the saints in their own place. We are not to imitate evil like this other man Diotrephes was doing. It says he would cast out of the assembly those who would entertain in this way. Yet here is this faithful man Gaius; he is going on regardless. He is going on and he is taking care of the saints of God. Let us go on beloved brethren through this passing scene, following these practical examples.
I think God would bring to us these different features. In Peter, it is subjection and suffering. Though it is not all suffering; we are to enjoy the fellowship and that is what John brings in. With Paul it is whole-hearted committal to Christ, losing everything and having his mind set on the things above so that everything else faded into the background - there was nothing else for Paul. Some people may say Paul was a controversial figure, but he was single-minded in pursuing the heavenly calling and going in for those things. Nothing else mattered to Paul. He loved the brethren and he cared for them, while his focus was on the high calling and the pursuit of it. Then John draws attention to Gaius and imitating what is good in hospitality and the practical care of the brethren. If you lay yourselves out for the saints, God will see to it that you are rewarded in other ways. He would bring in spiritual blessing. May the Lord just help us and encourage us to seek to become like Christ. I think the minute that we settle down and do not become concerned about this we are in great danger, beloved. I do not think it matters how old you are or how young you are. It is not a question of age. It is not a question of whether you are a brother or a sister. Let us be like Christ, let us follow in His steps.
What does that mean? How do you do that? You want to find where the Lord is? You can ask as the person in the Song of Songs did -
Tell me … Where thou feedest thy flock,
Where thou makest it to rest at noon,
chap 1: 7.
Go thy way … beside the shepherds’ booths,
He is where He feeds the flock. It is not a question of an ecclesiastical position. It is a question of finding where the Lord is, and He is where what is right is maintained. The truth is maintained livingly in persons, like ourselves. That is what is so attractive about these three men. They are persons like ourselves. The Lord Jesus said in relation to Peter, “I will make you fishers of men”, Matt 4: 19. The Lord made Peter what he was. Peter made a lot of mistakes, but God used him. Who was the first of the disciples that the Lord appeared to after He was raised up from among the dead? Paul says, “he appeared to Cephas, and then to the twelve”, 1 Cor 15: 5. Do not opt out because you have failed. God would strengthen you to be here and to be established in your soul. He says to Peter, “when once thou hast been restored, confirm thy brethren”, Luke 22: 32. Beloved, that is a very wonderful activity, and that is what Peter did - confirmed his brethren. He brought to bear the truth of the kingdom of God in such a way that it opened the way for the ministry that the Lord brought in through Paul. That is why I referred to Peter first; he set the stage, you might say. The Lord uses him to help the brethren to be prepared for what the Lord would bring in as light from heaven, the glorious things of Christ and the assembly through Paul: “Things which eye has not seen, and ear not heard … which God has prepared for them that love him”, 1 Cor 2: 9. Oh what unfoldings of the truth there were through Paul, but it requires first coming into the gain of the kingdom, the teaching that Peter brought in. The Lord used him and He restored him. He could also use a man like Paul, who had been an opposer. You may be here in the room, but not be too sure about things; but there are persons who are opposed. Saul of Tarsus was a religious man who knew everything about what he thought was right. He may have known the Scriptures backwards and forwards, but he was against Christ. And the Lord came in from heaven and made him a vessel that could be used in a glorious way, to establish the truth of the assembly, to bring in the light from heaven. He would have him sit down with persons whom he had persecuted before. Who else but God could do such a thing as that, beloved? Paul was like Christ. I am saying this because Peter failed, and yet he too was like Christ; not in his failure, but he learned from what he had gone through. Saul, a religious man, had it all figured out. He understood things mentally. It is not a question, beloved young people, about acquiring academic knowledge; it is a question of understanding the truth, holding the truth in love and allowing it to become part of you in order that Christ comes into expression in your life. In Acts 20, the elders of Ephesus came down to Paul and were moved. They were touched when he said “they would no more see his face”, v 38. From the Corinthian epistle, it appears that some persons were speaking ill of Paul, saying that his presence was weak, 2 Cor 10: 10. He would not have been much to look at. Do not judge the brethren by what they look like. Judge them by what you see of Christ. Authoritative ministry is what is borne out in the lives of those who minister it. Paul says, “knowing of whom thou hast learned them”, 2 Tim 3: 14. Timothy would have seen the way Paul lived. He would probably have gone into Paul’s tent and seen how Paul conducted himself. He saw the testimony of Christ lived out practically in this brother. He was a person like ourselves and yet Paul was an elect vessel. The Lord can use anyone here in this room. He can use all of us.
John could not always speak about himself, but he refers to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. Beloved, do you know the love of Jesus in that way, to be so conscious of the Lord Jesus that you are prepared that everything to do with you is lost sight of and that all that is before you is this glorious Man? That is what John grasped. He goes right through. The Lord says, “If I will that he abide until I come”, John 21: 22. He went through all kinds of difficulties. How? Because he knew the Lord Jesus. And John, I might add, was one to whom the Lord entrusted His mother, chap 19: 26, 27. What can He entrust us with? We want to be like Jesus. We want to be like the Lord Jesus Christ and that is a constant daily exercise. In some sense; we will be the last to know if we are becoming like Christ, but others will see it. The key is to keep on doing good, to imitate what is good. Be models, beloved young people; this is not just for older brethren. Peter does say to the elders, “but being models for the flock”, 1 Pet 5: 3. I remember how older brethren would come and minister the truth and we would have older brethren in the home, but they are not there any more. Now it is a question of what is there with me. I can say, ‘Well, I remember this brother or that brother and what they said in the meeting’. And I think of these young people sitting here and I wonder if they have an opportunity to hear such things from us? What is there of Christ in me? Am I taking responsibility to become like Jesus, because the testimony is maintained in persons. It is not an abstract idea. It is substantial and real, but it requires persons who are committed and devoted to Christ. It is a constant daily exercise and a matter of walking in the Spirit. Being free from everything else. So we sang at the beginning,
Now Thou art training,
Setting me free
From all that hinders,
To dwell with Thee.
That is happening now. The Lord is training us. In Deuteronomy 8 God says, He “led thee through the … wilderness” and then He says, “that he might humble thee”, v15, 16. That is the wilderness experience. It is a wonderful thing to be able to enjoy the great things of God, but the training ground is in day to day life both individually, in our households, and in our gatherings. There are things we may wish would go away, but God would use them. Sometimes things keep coming up, one time after another, and you wonder why. I believe it is because the Lord wants us to be so dependent on Him that we are relying on Him and not on our way of resolving the issues. It is not a case of saying this precedent applies here, and this precedent applies there, instead of asking, ’What is the mind of the Lord?’. Paul says, “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2: 16) - the thinking faculty, the very way that Christ is thinking; that is what the assembly has. There is a danger of becoming occupied with what is local to the detriment of what is universal in the truth of the fellowship. We may think we can do something and it will not affect everyone else, but it does. We need to see that we are linked together, linked together vitally in the testimony of our Lord Jesus Christ. What I do matters because it affects others. It involves Christ and the assembly, the greatest creature vessel that heaven or earth will ever know. It is going to come “down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God”, Rev 21: 10. All that wonderful glory is being worked out now in the assembly in different places and parts. God is working things out and He is going to have a glorious universe, centred in Christ with persons like Him. It is a matter of present conformity, not just a future matter. We will have our bodies of humiliation conformed to His body of glory and we will be like Him in that sense. The Lord Jesus is a Man in heaven, and He has a glorious body and we will have a body like His. We will be like Him then. But we need to be like him now. Why? Because God is seeking to render a testimony here to Christ in the hearts of the saints.
May God encourage us. Think of divine Persons in the economy converging in relation to this matter of what is for God here. I want to speak carefully, but our immediate responsibility is not what will be in heaven but what is worked out in the sphere of testimony. God has come into it, in Christ, in a Man, and demonstrated wonderful love. And the Father has been made known and the Holy Spirit is here. If we want to be in the testimony rightly, then we must be like Christ.
May God bless the word.
5th July 2013