Let No Man Despise Thy Youth!

Context

“Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).

We read in 1 Timothy 1 that Paul had to leave for Macedonia; therefore, he left Timothy in charge of Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3). However, knowing that young Timothy had a difficult calling to carry out, Paul wrote this letter to equip and encourage Timothy.

The Youth of Timothy

We all have been (or still are) at a point of time a youth. What exactly does youth mean? Here is a definition from Wikipedia: “Youth is the time of life when one is young, and often means the time between childhood and adulthood (maturity).”  Does “youth ” in 1 Timothy 4 refer to this youth?

Consider this quotation:

“The Greek term for “youth” is neotes. In this culture, someone could be called a “youth” until he was forty years old. According to Irenaeus, “Thirty is the first stage of a young man’s age, and extends to forty, as all will admit”.

In his second missionary journey, Paul met Timothy (Acts 16:1). Fourteen  years later, Paul wrote his first epistle to Timothy. Supposing that Timothy was sixteen years old when Paul first worked with him, Timothy would be at least thirty at this point of time . From all these,  we can infer that Paul exhorted Timothy because Paul was concerned that Timothy would not be respected by the older men in the congregation because of his age. With that concern, Paul gives Timothy the exhortation in our text.

Paul’s Exhortation

In verse 12 we read, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity”. What does this mean? The verse is split into a pair of opposites. First, “let no man despise thy youth…”  and second , “but be thou an example of the believers…”

Let us recall what Timothy’s calling was. His calling was to be a preacher of the gospel in Ephesus. Implied in that calling is that Timothy would be under the watchful scrutiny of his congregation. If Timothy erred in his preaching, he would fall under the criticism of his congregation and be deemed unsuited for the ministry due to his age. Worst of all, the ministry would be blemished severely! Rather than to err in this manner, young Timothy is to live a godly life that leaves no room for criticism in his youth. Fearlessly, he was to bring before the people in Ephesus the Word of God – not his opinions, but the infallible, inspired Word of God.

Looking now at the opposite exhortation, we notice that Timothy was to be an example in six aspects: word, conversation, charity, spirit, faith, and purity. These six aspects are what a pastor (really, every man) must embody to profess Christ as Saviour and Redeemer, showing evidence that Christ dwells in his heart.

We will group these six aspects into two groups to show the connection among them, word and conversation being the first: charity, spirit, faith, and purity being the second.

The first two aspects encompass the outward appearance of Timothy. He could not live out his calling as a minister if his actions did not show it.

In word, Timothy was to be an example in the words he spoke (in his preaching, teachings, and exhortations; 1 Tim. 4:13). The words that a man speaks reveal what is in his heart (Matt. 15:18). Our calling is to be pure in heart (Matt. 5:8), for the heart is the spiritual centre of a man. God looks at the heart of a man (1 Sam. 16:7), so the words which Timothy spoke were to show that he was pure in heart. Our calling then is also to watch our words, to be a witness of the light that is within us, even in our speech.

In conversation, that is, in Timothy’s “manner of life”, he was also called to be an example in his conduct. He was to conduct himself so that he was not despised because of his youth, and more importantly, he was to conduct himself as a minister of Christ. What might that look like? A man after God’s own heart, David (1 Sam. 13:14). David looked to God in all things; he always sought God first. This should be our manner of life, always putting and seeking God first.

The next four aspects encompass the inward qualities Timothy ought to be an example of.

In charity, love, Timothy was to be an example of loving God with all his heart, soul, and mind and of loving his neighbour (Matt. 22:37-39). This charity is connected to faith and purity. Let us remember 1 Corinthians 13:2, that if we have faith that could move mountains but have no charity, we are nothing. This verse shows how charity (or the lack of it) can affect all aspects of our lives. Timothy carried out his ministry in his love for God, because he wanted to fulfil his calling for God. As a pastor he would have to put in numerous hours in preparing, meditating on God’s Word day and night. Timothy too was to love his neighbour in humility and longsuffering, forbearing in love (Eph. 4:2). As a shepherd cares for his flock, so must Timothy show such love to the church (Isa. 40:11). This love, for God and for our neighbour, is the love we must have.

In spirit, Timothy was to carry out his work in a pure and holy spirit – that is, in a life which  evidenced his zeal for God, a life with a focus on putting God and His work first always. How do we emulate this behaviour? By putting God first in our lives, when we  set the work of the church as a priority, and not as a mere thought (Matt. 6:33).

In faith, Timothy was to have faith that is unfeigned (1 Tim. 1:5, 2 Tim. 1:5). The Heidelberg Catechism explains in Q&A 21 that “true faith is not only a certain knowledge…but also an assured confidence”. A genuine faith starts from that inward knowledge and confidence and flows into the outward behaviour. Faith in Timothy would bring forth an abundance of fruit – in his ministry, his love for others, his actions, and his words. In this too we see our calling to live out our faith, a faith which is sincere, out of love for God.

In purity, Timothy was to treat all those around him with purity (1 Tim. 5:1-2) and to keep himself pure in his spirituality (1 Tim. 5:22). Consider this quotation:

Rev. George C. Lubbers, in the Standard Bearer, Volume 38, Issue 15, writes that this purity is not“to be taken in the sense that moralism would teach purity, leaving God out of the picture, but it must most emphatically refer to the spiritual ethical purity of the sanctification which is ours through the Spirit of Christ. It is the purity of heaven, of the spiritual man, of the new man in Christ, in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. It is the purity of godliness, which is not merely a matter of form and convention, but a life which has the power of godliness.  A minister must be a truly godly man” (Bylsma, 2013).

This is how Timothy was to live and keep a life of purity, a life which continually sought after God to flee from sin, where God is the center. For example, Timothy knew the temptations of a young minister of the gospel when he visits a woman; to give in to his youthful lusts would ruin his work and duty to preach the gospel. Therefore, he was to guard his heart and ensure that his sinful lusts did not affect his judgment. We too are in the same spiritual battle as Timothy was. We must always put on the armour of God, resist the devil, and constantly consecrate ourselves to God.

The Possibility

Timothy could be an example to believers only because God was with him.

God used Timothy’s mother (Eunice), grandmother (Lois), and Paul to prepare him for the ministry. What a marvelous work! Timothy had the instruction of his mother and grandmother from his childhood (2 Tim. 1:5). Maturing under their instruction, Timothy was taken under Paul’s wing, who groomed him to preach the Word of God.

God was present throughout Timothy’s life.

Without God, man can do nothing (Jn. 15:5). In His mercy, God neither leaves us nor forsakes us (Heb. 13:5) and will be with us wherever we go (Josh. 1:9). What assurance  we have knowing that, even in our youth, we can be good examples to others, even to the older ones!

Conclusion

In conclusion, let no man despise thy youth. Let us be an example of the believers. Let the Word of God be the basis of our lives and how we are to live, for God is our God – all to the glory of God the Highest.

 

Written by: Deuel Teo | Issue 51

References

[1] “Youth”Macmillan Dictionary. Macmillan Publishers Limited. Retrieved 2013-8-15.

[2] Irenaeus II. 22.5. Cited in Stott, John Guard the Truth: The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1996. 35.

[3] Earle, R. 1 Timothy. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 11: Ephesians through Philemon (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.) Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1981. 374.

 

Lubbers, G.C. (1962, 15 May) Exposition of I Timothy 4:11-16. Retrieved from: https://standardbearer.rfpa.org/articles/exposition-i-timothy-411-16

Bylsma S. (2013, April) Despising Not Our Youth. Retrieved from: https://www.beaconlights.org/articles/despising-not-our-youth/

 

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Scripture’s Covenant Youth (XIII): Jeremiah

Whenever I read from the book of Jeremiah I become very sad. I know of no one in Scripture who found it more difficult to do the work of his office than Jeremiah. His whole life was filled with disappointment, even his death. He is a man appropriate for an article in this series for he began to preach at a very early age, when he was only a child (Jer. 1:6).

We must, therefore, start our discussion of this noble man of God with some words about his calling.

I do not think that anyone as young as him was called to begin the work of preaching. There have been some self-appointed preachers who were children when they began to preach, especially at revivals; but they are false prophets. In the days of Jeremiah and in the sacred history recorded for us in Scripture, men who were called to be prophets normally had to wait until they were thirty years old. This was true, for example, with both John the Baptist and Jesus Himself.

But the times demanded preaching. They were the years prior to Judah’s captivity (Jer. 1:1-4). In fact, Jeremiah was still prophesying when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonian army (Jer. 52).

It is mentioned twice in Jeremiah 1 that God called Jeremiah to be a prophet (Jer. 1:2, 4). The call was real; the call was urgent; the call was of such a kind that could not be refused. The trouble was that Jeremiah was, as he himself said, only a youth.

Before I make some remarks about that and its implications for the youth in the church today, I want to make a few remarks about Jeremiah’s ministry.

Judah was in its last days. The country and had become worse than Israel in its idolatry, its utter paganism and its rejection of God and His word. The sinfulness of the nation was from the king, down through the princes and into the lives of the people.

In addition to its terrible sinfulness, it also was in constant danger of being destroyed by foreign armies. (You can read of Judah’s sins and the threat of conquest in the last chapters of 2 Chronicles.) Already much of Judah was in the hands of the Babylonians and only Jerusalem was not conquered. The heathen armies surrounded the city.

Jeremiah had to bring the Word of God to the people who remained. He had to tell them to repent of their sins and turn again to God, or they would be destroyed. In fact, the end of Judah was so certain that God told Jeremiah to tell the people and the king and his princes that their only hope of escaping death was to surrender and give themselves over to the Babylonians. If they did not surrender, they would be killed by the Babylonian army, or by pestilence, or by starvation, for no food could be brought into the city because of the siege.

Judah would not repent and comforted itself with the false dream that Egypt would come to Jerusalem’s aid. They openly rejected Jeremiah’s preaching and hated him for calling them to repentance. His preaching that Judah should surrender was interpreted to mean that he wanted the Babylonians to win the war, and he was charged with treason.

At one point in Jeremiah’s ministry, he was ordered by God to go outside the city and purchase a piece of land. This seemed to be the epitome of foolishness; the land, captured by the Babylonian was worthless. But God told Jeremiah to do that because it was a testimony to Judah that God would bring them back to Canaan, and therefore, they should surrender.

On his return to the city, Jeremiah was captured by the guards at the gate, charged with treason for secretly providing the enemy with useful information about the city and thrown into a well which was full of mud and into which Jeremiah sunk up to his waist. He was rescued by a few men who believed Jeremiah’s prophecies and had repented of Judah’s sin. God preserved a very small remnant of His people, but they had little or no influence on the king and his counsellors.

To show how determined the king was to reject God’s Word, we are told that when the book (that now appears in our Bible under the name “Jeremiah” and which Jeremiah had partially written, under divine inspiration) was read page by page, the king took each separate sheet and threw it into the fire. (It was actually a scroll that was written, and the king took a knife and cut off parts as they were read. God comforted Jeremiah by telling him that he would be infallibly inspired to rewrite what was burned.)

Jeremiah suffered so much that he even resigned from his ministry, for the suffering was so great that it was hard to endure. But he could not stop preaching for “his (God’s) word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stop” (Jer. 20:9). It reminds us of Paul’s words, “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16)! Jeremiah had to preach; so did Paul.   They could not stop preaching – even if they wanted to stop.

Any minister who is faithful in his calling knows what that means!

Even after Jerusalem was burned to the ground and Jeremiah wrote the Book of Lamentations as he wept while sitting on a pile of rubble, he had at least the hope that he was spared captivity and that he could remain in the Holy City. But that too was denied him.

When wicked Ishmael murdered Gedaliah, whom Nebuchadnezzar had made ruler over a small remnant that was left in the city, Ishmael, in direct defiance of the Lord’s words to the remnant to remain in Canaan, forced them all to go with him to Egypt – Jeremiah as well; where, as far as we know, he died and was buried.

What a sad ministry when all Jeremiah knew was opposition and persecution.

We must now return to Jeremiah’s call to the ministry.

He was different from Moses: he refused because he was young; Moses refused because he was old. Yet they both refused God’s call (Jer. 1:6, Ex 5:10) And both appealed to their inability to speak properly. Moses was so adamant about his refusal that the Lord reminded him, “Who made your mouth (Ex. 5:11)?” And finally, God became angry with Moses (Ex. 5:14). Jeremiah’s refusal was simply brushed aside without argument and God provided the assurance that He would be with Jeremiah whatever happened.

You may say that Jeremiah did not know how badly he would be hated, but God warned him ahead of time: “Be not afraid of their faces for I am with thee to deliver thee”.

In a very general sense, God calls each of us to our place in His kingdom. He calls a father to care for his family, a mother to care for her husband and children, a clerk to work in a bank, an engineer to determine how a building must be done, etc. Every vocation is just that: a vocation, that is, a calling. We may never say of a calling that it is beneath our dignity or our talents. God puts a halo over every type of work – even sweeping streets or picking up garbage.

Sometimes God calls to special places in his kingdom where the one called has heavy responsibilities: elder, deacon, minister, Sunday School teacher, organist, Christian School teacher…Sometimes he calls us to do difficult work, or dangerous work, work that we do not particularly like to do. It makes no difference: God calls. He assigns everyone a position in His kingdom, the kingdom of Christ.

We may not refuse when God calls. We may not, out of some hypocritical piety and false humility, say, “No” while secretly hoping that the questioners will urge us to do it. But even when our refusal is genuinely rooted in a deep sense of our inadequacy when God calls, we may not refuse. God will not call inadequate people. The call of the church is a call we can never refuse, for it is the church through which God calls people to work in special offices in His kingdom.

That Jeremiah was called when still a youth is explained in the text. Before Jeremiah was born, God was preparing him for his life’s calling. God was working so that the gifts Jeremiah would need were given him – gifts for a very difficult task that would make Jeremiah’s calling all but humanly impossible. Yet God was right and Jeremiah wrong.

Incidentally, this work of God qualifying Jeremiah before he was born was also proof that God regenerates elect children born in the line of God’s covenant before they are born. Those who hold to a conditional covenant refuse to believe this clear Scriptural passage. They have various ways of getting around its unmistakable meaning. But the text is clear and serves covenant parents with incentive to teach their children (God’s children) the way they should walk.

Yet the text means that God qualifies a person for his place in God’s covenant and in the kingdom of Christ. The qualification is, of course, spiritual first of all. But it includes all a person needs to fulfil his calling, no matter how difficult the task. This is why a believing covenant man or woman always asks, “Lord, what wilt thou that I do?”

Paul speaks of every kind of work as worthy of our best in 1 Cor. 15:58. Paul calls it, whatever the situation, “the work of the Lord”. And, even though sometimes it is done with weakness, God promises that it is “not in vain in the Lord”.

This means that church must be the centre of our love and we must, by our work, labour in God’s kingdom. May God grant us the grace to heed this.

 

Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 51

Scripture’s Covenant Youth (XII): Joash

This series of articles in Salt Shakers concerns the lives of covenant youths. Joash, king of Judah, qualifies as a covenant youth; and yet he doesn’t. He qualifies as a covenant youth because he was born in the lines of the covenant and lived many years as a child of God’s covenant. But he is disqualified from the role of covenant youth because he turned his back on God toward the end of his life and led Judah into idolatry. He did not belong to God’s covenant in

There are some interesting events in the history of Joash, however, that are of importance to understand Joash’s life, and are also instruction for youth today.

It all began with Jehoshaphat, Judah’s God-fearing king. Although he did much to establish Judah as a nation that feared God, he had one fatal weakness: he was intent on forming an alliance with Ahab, wicked and godless king of the northern kingdom, composed of the ten tribes of Israel, now an independent nation. Ahab needed help to defend his land against the Syrians who had come to destroy Israel (2 Chron. 18). I am sure that Jehoshaphat could defend his actions of agreeing to form an alliance with Ahab with strong arguments. They might even have persuaded us. What are they? Syria was a threat to Judah as well as Israel, and Judah might be next on the list of conquests. Why not join in the battle against a common enemy?

Furthermore, the northern kingdom was still part of the Old Testament church: it had 5,000 in it who had not bowed the knee to Baal; it had the pure preaching of the Word in it, for Elijah, a great prophet, still preached in the nation; and there was always the hope of the two nations being united once again as they had been under the reigns of David and Solomon. What could be a better bit of diplomacy?

But it was not God’s will. Jehoshaphat learned that on his return. He found the prophet Jehu waiting for him. Jehu sharply reprimanded Jehoshaphat: “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? Therefore is wrath upon thee from the Lord” (2 Chron. 19:2).

Jehoshaphat did not listen, but continued his efforts to form an alliance with Israel’s king (2 Chron. 20:35-36), and again he was rebuked (2 Chron. 20:37).

What has all this to do with Joash?

Well, because of Jehoshaphat’s insistence on an alliance with Israel’s kings, his son, Jehoram, quite naturally, carried the alliance further and married the daughter of Israel’s king, Ahaziah. But Ahaziah, king of Israel, was also wicked, and Jehoram followed in his wicked ways and in his granddaughter Athaliah’s wicked ways. He was as wicked as Ahab’s family. He killed six of his brothers and other princes in Judah, because he considered them threats to the throne (2 Chron. 21:4). When God killed him (2 Chron. 21:18-19), what was probably written on his gravestone (if they used gravestones in those days) would have read: “He reigned in Jerusalem eight years, and departed without being desired” (2 Chron. 21:20). That word summed up the fruit of his whole life. Nobody cared when he died. Maybe they breathed a sigh of relief.

Many events, into which we cannot go, paved the way for Athaliah, Jehoram’s wife and daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, to bring the nation of Judah to sin. She came to the throne of Judah as the Queen mother and ruled the land. But she killed all the royal seed – except one, Joash. Cooperation between a God-fearing man and a wicked man led to marriage between the two families. It oftentimes does. And such a marriage was fatal.

Although this is not part of our story, you now also understand that Joash was now the only one left in the royal line that would bring forth Christ. If Joash would have been killed, Christ could not have come, born of Mary, from the line of Judah’s kings. As far as Jehoshaphat was concerned, his conniving with Ahab, a great sin, nearly destroyed Christ! Only by God’s intervention was the line preserved.

Association with and joining in the same cause as the wicked leads to God’s anger and the cutting off of our children from their being, even outwardly, from God’s covenant.

Joash escaped because, when still a baby, he was spirited away by his aunt Jehosheba, the wife of Jehoiada, who hid him in the temple for 7 years. She did this at the risk of her life. It was undoubtedly during this period that Joash was taught by his aunt and uncle the ways of Jehovah and the calling to walk as a covenant child. But he must also have been taught the responsibilities of being king over God’s people, for he ruled well. At the age of seven he was considered ready to be anointed king of Judah.

It was a coup d’ etat, led by Jehoiada and the temple guard that set Joash on the throne and resulted in the death of Athaliah.

As long as Jehoiada lived and served as an advisor to Joash, all was well. Joash considered the priority in his reign to be the repair of the temple, for it had been stripped of its utensils and left a broken-down building by Athaliah. Further, when the Levites were lax in collecting money for the repair of the temple, Joash devised another way of collecting the necessary funds. He put a box at the entrance of the temple into which the people had to drop their money. This method of collecting money proved successful and was still used in Jesus’ day.

But when Jehoiada died, the princes persuaded Joash to return to the worship of idols. Jehoiada had been so zealous for the cause of God that he was, so far as I know, the only non-king buried among the kings of Judah. Joash had, therefore, during all the years of Jehoiada, put on a show of being devoted to the cause of God. Only after Jehoiada died, Joash was revealed not to be a true son of the covenant that God established with Abraham.

It is unspeakably sad. The church has always had such people. God promises to save his covenant people in the line of generations, but not all children of believers are true children of Abraham. The sin of Joash was so great that Jesus incorporates him in those upon whom he pronounced his awful woes just before his death (Matt. 23:34-35). Zacharias, the son of Barachias, is the same as Zachariah, son of Jehoida, who was high priest in the place of his father, and who was stoned at the command of Joash (2 Chron. 24:20-22).

Some leave the church over doctrine or are cut out of the church for teaching false doctrine as were those who brought about the split in our own churches. Some leave for falling into some gross sin such as immorality or divorce and remarriage. Some leave because their parents did not teach them the ways of God’s covenant (Judg. 7:7-11).

I visited an aged saint who was near the end of his life. He wept as he told me, “All my children have left the church and it is my fault, for I never taught them God’s word”.

But those who leave the church of Christ are described in 1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they no doubt would have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us”.

All this confronts us with a very serious calling. In 2 Peter 1:10, we are admonished to make our calling and election sure, for “if ye do these things, ye shall never fall”.

Paul calls steadfastness that gift of the Christian who in the face of all temptation and trouble is faithful. He concludes his glorious chapter on the resurrection of our bodies with the words: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:48).

And, do not fail to teach your children, beginning at their birth, the ways of God’s covenant. With the warnings and promises of the Scripture part of your instruction, be faithful, for these precious little ones are, if you are faithful, the church of tomorrow.

Our fathers would often pray (in Dutch), “Cut us not off in our generations”. I still pray that often; God grant that you do the same.

 

Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 50

Scripture’s Covenant Youth (XII): David

Although I have written about David’s youthful years, and although this column is devoted to covenant youth, I decided to write also of one incident in David’s adult life, which is of great significance for us. I refer to the sin David committed with Bathsheba and against her husband, Uriah. You can read the history in 2 Samuel 11 and 12. You ought also to read Psalm 51 that was written after Nathan the prophet came to David and exposed David’s sin; and Psalm 32 that was written after David knew that God had forgiven him.

The sin of David began when he did not go with Joab and the army of Israel to fight against Ammon. Although he was the man God had chosen to subdue Israel’s enemies and extend the borders of Canaan, the land promised to Abraham and his seed, he chose to enjoy the luxuries of life in the palace in Jerusalem. He was in fact in bed during the day because he arose from his bed in the evening (2 Sam. 11:1-2).

He put into motion a series of events that led to his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, his neighbour’s wife. When he learned that she was pregnant, he decided to hide his sin from his household and from the nation over which he ruled. He summoned Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, from the battlefield to spend a few days home in the hopes that Bathsheba’s pregnancy could be ascribed to Uriah, a prominent soldier in Israel’s army.

But this did not work, for Uriah would not leave his fellow soldiers to spend time with his wife. He refused to go home. The result was that David ordered Uriah’s death in the battle against Ammon, and this was successfully accomplished.

As is so often common with the sinner, David refused to confess his sin to himself or to God. He tells of that in Psalm 32: “While I kept guilty silence, my strength was spent in grief. Thy hand was heavy on me; my soul found no relief” (Psalter rendition of Psalm 32). This “guilty silence” continued until Nathan the prophet came to him and brought David to see his sin and confess it.

What needs emphasis here is that David was not a profligate sinner: he is said in many places in Scripture to be a man of God, a special servant of God and an unusual person who occupied a special place in God’s covenant. In fact, he was a special type of Christ and one who stood in the genealogical line of Christ. Psalm 89 says some wonderful things of what God promised David to whom would be given a son who would build God’s temple.

Scripture teaches us by David’s sin that the strongest and most important child of God is indeed prone to sin and would sin if it were not for God’s grace. He is totally depraved because he was born with a corrupt nature (vs. 5). I think we have a clue to this and to David’s recognition of this truth in Psalm 51 in which David prays, “Take not thy Holy Spirit from me” (vs. 11). He knew that without the Spirit any sin, not matter how heinous, was within his doing.

There is another point here that is important for us. God forgave David his sin. That is true from many passages in Scripture including Psalm 32 and from many other passages throughout the Scriptures. Nevertheless, forgiveness does not mean that God simply overlooks our sins. They are forgiven because God gave His own Son to die in our place. But He does not leave us without any consequences in our lives; He tells David that although he is forgiven, the sword will not be removed from David’s house.

This is necessary because David had given the enemy occasion to slander God and the cause of God in the world. The enemy could (and did) mock Israel because their most important leader was no better than they, but only an adulterer and a murderer. For His own name’s sake God had to send affliction on David as well as on any sinner.

And so he did. Ammon raped his sister Tamar, and Absalom murdered Ammon. Absalom committed a coup d’etat against his father. Adonijah made himself king apart from David’s consent. And both Amnon and Adonijah were killed for their treason.

It is well that we remember this. The Lord our God is a merciful God and freely pardons our sins. But we shall endure the consequences of our sin in our lives. God is so merciful to us that even the “sword” which He sends into our lives He turns to our good, makes it chastisement, and uses it to prepare us for heaven. But that does not alter the fact that we suffer affliction in our lives because of our sins.

A drunkard remains a drunkard all his life, even though he may live a life of sobriety. A dope addict must live with a fried brain even though he has been delivered from this sin. Our sins reappear in our children – to our dismay. What a man sows he also reaps – even in the lives of God’s people.

But there is one more thing here that we must notice. After David’s sin, David was forgiven. There can be no doubt about that. But the fact is that after this dreadful sin, David’s effectiveness as a king was over. We read little more about him, except for his sin of numbering the people. That too is the price we pay for our sins.

Let us be ever on our guard against the temptations of Satan, who goes around as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Let us know and understand that we serve a righteous and holy God who will not let sin go unpunished, who does not take sin lightly as we so often do, and who is also a God of great mercy. It is a wonder of grace that we actually do make it to heaven. The righteous are scarcely saved, Peter says. We just make it. We make it by the skin of our teeth. We stagger into heaven exhausted from a life of sin and corruption. We arrive only because of the greatness of the grace and love of our omnipotent God.

To Him be the glory forever and ever.

 

Written by: Prof Herman Hanko | Issue 49

Rejoicing and Weeping Together (II): In the Church

The church is family. As every earthly family   and   its   members   experience joys and sorrows, so the church and its members experience joys and sorrows. Previously, we considered what our attitude ought to be towards these joys and sorrows. Our hearts must have the attitude of love towards one another, expressed in the way of rejoicing and weeping with one another.

How are we to rejoice and weep with one another?

The points that follow are more of suggestions than imperatives for us to consider and discuss in our fellowship.

The first two suggestions consider what our initial responses towards our joyful brother or grieving sister should be.

  1. Explicit Joy

Towards our brethren who rejoice: respond to their joy with joy! Do not give a dull response to a brother or sister that exuberates with joy. It may be hard for us to imagine what such a response looks like; but the LORD gives us illustrations of a joyful response, starting with himself. Recall that the LORD calls our attention to His face, that it shines upon us in grace and is lifted up as the expression of peace (Num. 6:25-26). Simply by the look of God’s face, we know His thoughts of love, joy, and peace towards us. So also, by a warm smile or a gentle gaze, we express the same thoughts to our brethren.

Not only facially, but also verbally, we can rejoice with our brother. Think now of John, the apostle of love, who wrote that he had “no greater joy than to hear that [his] children walk in the truth” (3 John 4). A colloquial way to read the verse is: “I am extremely happy to hear that all of you believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ and live in thankfulness for that gospel.” Simple phrases such as, “That’s good to hear” and “Thank God!” go a long way to tell our brethren that we rejoice with them in the joys the LORD has given them.

If the LORD’s own countenance and the apostles’ words are insufficient illustrations, then consider the covenant mother that smiles to her infant; or to the covenant father that exclaims “That’s wonderful!” when his child rambles along about his Sunday in church. The infant that sees his mother’s cheer and the child that hears his father’s enthusiasm knows immediately that his mother and father are happy with them.

  1. Don’t Be Quick to Criticise

Towards the grieving sister (or brother), there is one thing we can consider. Don’t criticise first. That is, when our fellow saint approaches us with a certain sorrow or trouble, do not be quick to criticise that the person is spiritually weak, carnal, impatient, doubtful, etc., so that he or she is merely murmuring about what the LORD has given them. If the first thing we always say is, “Brother/Sister, you are wrong…” more often than not, we turn the brother or sister away from the help and comfort we may bring to them. They will think, “All he ever does is criticise!” Of course, criticism is not our only intent, but it is the impression given.

While there may be a particular weakness involved that affects our brethren spiritually, we must not be so quick to focus in on that weakness. The circumstances our brethren face—the stresses of work, the financial strains of the home, the sicknesses of the body— are often the trigger to their sorrows. Patiently listen for the details of those circumstances. Ask questions to draw out the troubles of the heart. Knowing these circumstances, we can shape our advice to address both the weakness and the proper way to respond to those circumstances that affect our brethren.

  1. Maintaining Confidentiality

The third suggestion considers a specific yet common situation. The brother tells you of a financial crisis he is facing; or a sister tells you of a conflict with another person in the church. You do not know what to say; however, only you know about it. The brother (sister) has told no one else. What may you do?

Confidentiality must be maintained. Solomon’s counsel is the principle to follow: “He that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter” (Pro. 11:13b). The aggrieved person has told you only. He or she (probably) does not want others to know. In other words, the person trusts that you will keep it a secret. Even if the brother or sister has not explicitly told you to keep it a secret, we fall on the safer side to assume that it is not meant to be told.

Furthermore, the nature of our tongue is poisonous; it is full of deadly poison (James. 3:8). If anything, the Bible’s diagnosis of our tongues should have us think twice of breaking a secret.

There are serious consequences when confidentiality is broken. The brother who has confided with us will not trust us. The sister will not share anything else about the matter, even when the matter   becomes   spiritually   harmful to her. The brother or sister, though sinking into spiritual destruction, will not tell you anything.

Especially when the trouble causes great spiritual hurt to our brethren, we must be wary of these consequences. The growing trouble of spousal abuse is a real example, of which Prof. Engelsma writes:

Lack of confidentiality is a grave weakness of consistories in the matter of abuse as in other serious, sensitive matters. That elders or the pastor divulge[s] consistorial matters, especially those of a sensitive   nature   involving   sin and suffering of members of the congregation, to other members of the church, including their wives, is destructive of the pastoral work of Christ by means of the consistory and harmful to the abused woman. The abused woman will not turn to the minister or to the elders for the help she needs. The gossip of the consistory hinders the work of Christ.1

Though other matters may not bear a severity equal to spousal abuse, dealing with these matters uses the same principle: Keep it confidential. Between office-bearers and their wives, as Prof. Engelsma implies, there must be a mutual understanding that certain matters may not be disclosed; likewise for husbands who do not hold office and their wives; and likewise for friends who hold a closer bond. For the sake of the weeping saint, do not have the secret broken.

Is there room to ask others for advice for secret matters? Yes; but we need not share the details with others from whom we ask for counsel. And if the matter deems it necessary for details to be shared, they ought to be shared with the person’s consent. Scripture’s principle does not change.

But if the person would not have us utter a word about the matter, even for advice, what then?

  1. Pray

Make it a point to call upon the LORD for what our brethren need. As we pray, the LORD will grant to us wisdom to counsel and advice the grieving saint according to his Word. As Solomon received wisdom through prayer (2 Chron. 1:11), so we will receive wisdom by the same means.

Prayer towards our brethren that rejoice should not be neglected either. Our example is Paul, who always thanked the Lord when the New Testament saints experienced the spiritual joys of salvation (Eph. 1:16; 1 Thess. 1:3). By such prayers, the LORD will enable us to rejoice with our brethren to a greater extent.

“Practice makes perfect”, by God’s grace. Conscious effort must be placed into practising the proper way of rejoicing and sorrowing with others. As sinful creatures, we habitually practise indifference, over-criticism, gossiping, and worldly-wisdom; but, graciously, God has given us Christ’s Spirit to sympathise, bridle the tongue, and speak wisely according to the Word.

At the same time, if practice makes perfect, practice needs to start from the home. If we want to practice it in the MPH on Sunday mornings, we have to first practice it in the living room of our flats. We cannot expect ourselves to be sympathetic, faithful secret-bearers, and wise, if we behave coldly, unfaithfully, and foolishly at home towards our spouse (or parents) and children (or siblings).

More on the home next time, DV.

1           “Questions and Answers Regard- ing the Speech on Spousal (Wife) Abuse” by Prof. David J. Engelsma (https://www.drop- box.com/s/9q7q3na0p1p08yd/abuse%20-%20 questions%20and%20answers%20-%202017. docx?dl=0). Accessed 24 January 2018

Written by: Lim Yang Zhi | Issue 48

Scripture’s Covenant Youth (XI): David

David was anointed by Samuel to be king over Israel even though he was still a youth. In Old Testament times, God gave His Holy Spirit to those whom He anointed as prophets, priests or kings. So David also possessed the Spirit from the time he was anointed in Bethlehem by Samuel.

David knew therefore, that he was now Israel’s king and that Saul no longer possessed the right to rule as king. He must often have wondered why God did not give him the kingdom if he was to be king, and the temptation must have been present with him from time to time to seize the kingdom by force. But he never attempted this and was on the contrary, ready to wait for God to give him the kingdom, even though many years elapsed before God made him king; he was then a grown man and the captain of a sizable force of strong and valiant men who had come to join him in his exile.

One of the outstanding features of this period of David’s life was his willingness to wait for God to give him the kingdom. Anyone who knew he was anointed to be the legitimate king in a nation would do all he could to assume that   position.   By   being   anointed, David had every right to claim the throne; and, after all, to be a king over a large nation was a temptation not easily resisted. When David therefore wrote in some of his songs given us in the Psalms, he knew what it meant to wait upon his God (Ps. 27:14). He waited for years and years as he grew from a young boy to an adult. He even waited when he had the chance to kill King Saul and was advised to do this by his companions. He refused for as he said, he would not dare to do anything harmful to the Lord’s anointed.

How often is it not true of us when we anticipate something good, or when God delays giving what we think we need or have coming to us. We are eager and God seems so slow to do what He promised. How necessary it is for us simply to wait upon Jehovah. Especially when we are in danger and we are frightened and cry to God for help, but He does not seem to hear us. We take matters into our own hands to acquire what we want. And that is why in the same Psalm and the same verse in which David urges us to wait on Jehovah, he also tells us: Be of good courage, and He will strengthen thine heart. But wait on Jehovah!

It is not this of which I choose to write in this article. The real important characteristic of David’s life that can teach us many things is found in the history of David’s battle with Goliath. You may read the whole incident in 1 Samuel 17. It is a well-known story, but it is interesting and important enough to be read again.

While we are particularly moved by David’s courage in going to meet Goliath armed only with a sling, and while his victory in the confrontation is exciting to read, I am, in this article more interested in David’s discussion with Saul. You may find that in 1 Samuel 17:31-39. More particularly, verses 34-36, in which is described David’s protection of his sheep by killing a lion and a bear. Why did David tell Saul of this incident in his life as a youth?

Let us be clear on the circumstances. David had been sent by Jesse, his father, to inquire into the welfare of his brothers who were in the army of Saul in a battle with the Philistines. There was no fighting at the moment of David’s arrival in the camp. This lull in the battle was due to the presence of a giant, Goliath by name. We are not told the height, armor and strength of the Philistine, but we are informed of a family of giants in the nation of the Philistines who were all mighty men around nine feet tall, stronger than oxen with weapons of such size that an ordinary man could hardly lift them, but who were killed by David’s warriors. Goliath was sent out of the Philistine’s camp every day to taunt the army of Israel and the God whom they served. It was Saul’s responsibility to go out to fight the giant, but Saul cowered in his tent. Nor was there another solider in the whole army who dared to challenge Goliath.

Except David. A young man; without armour; without weapons; He was not only willing, but was eager and confident of victory over this monstrosity of a soldier called Goliath (verse 46).

But what made him so confident that seemed to border on reckless foolhardiness? He was urged not to go by war-hardened soldiers. He was offered armour and more dangerous weapons than a mere slingshot. Was he stupidly foolish? Was he a daredevil willing to try any hazard? Was he embarrassed by Israel’s refusal to go to fight this giant? Was it the promise of a princess to be his wife that moved him?

None of these. The giant was mocking Israel’s   God   and   it   was   Jehovah’s people that Goliath despised for their cowardliness (verse 43).

That was always the issue in Israel: Was Israel’s God the only true God? Or were the idols of the heathen superior to Jehovah? The cowardliness of Saul and his army indicated that they did not have faith in God’s promises or His superiority over the gods of the heathen. They did not believe that God would care for His church no matter what the strength of Israel’s opponents might be.

And that brings us to David’s story of his victory over a lion and a bear that had come to destroy his father’s sheep.

Once again: Why did he tell Saul of this incident in his life? Was it mere boasting on David’s part? Was it intended to prove to Saul that he was very strong?

None of these was the reason.

David told Saul of these exploits because they were proof to David that he, as Israel’s king, possessed the Holy Spirit of God. There was no way that David could have killed both a lion and a bear with his own strength as a youth. He realized that when Samuel anointed him, he was Israel’s true king. Saul had really been deposed and was only hanging on to his role as king because he wanted to pass it on to his son. Yet he showed that he was not fit to be king, for he was the one who had to go out to fight Goliath, or at least inspire his troops by his own example that he was truly their king. But instead of daring to fight the giant, he let a mere “stripling” go instead while he cowered in his tent.

But David knew he was king even though he had to wait for God to open the way. As king, it was his responsibility to lead the hosts of Israel by his courage and faith in God.

Whatever the “odds” may have been – and they were strongly in favour of Goliath – David knew that he represented the cause of God as Israel’s king, and was ready to show that he desired to do so. He was absolutely confident of victory (verse 47) for God would not allow His name to be blasphemed, and David represented that great name “Jehovah”, the one true God who bore that name.

David was a type of Christ who is the Captain of our salvation and who has crushed the head of Satan and all his vast hosts of demons for us. He leads us (and all the church) from victory to victory. He fights against all the enemies of the church and destroys them: Satan, the world that hates the church, and our own depraved natures. From an earthly point of view, the enemy is overwhelmingly stronger. Our foes number in the billions and they have Satan and his millions of demons on their side. The church is a hut in a garden of cucumbers, a very small remnant, a besieged city, and a little flock surrounded by ravening wolves from whose snarling mouths drips the saliva of the anticipation of devouring the sheep.

The text forces on us the question: Do we have the courage of David? After all we too possess the Holy Spirit and are kings (Lord’s Day 12); we represent the cause of God in the world. What do we do? Shrink back in fear? Talk nice to wicked men to gain their favour? Join them in their evil activities? We find it easy to do so when they are not threatening us. But what about those countless times when they mock our God, twist His truth into their own notions? Poke fun of His great glory and majesty? Do we remain silent? Does it not bother us to hear our God slandered? And what about the times they threaten us? With loss of our jobs? With imprisoning us? With killing us? What then?

May God give us men (and women – who often are more courageous than the men [see the history of Deborah and Barak]) who are so enthralled with the power and faithfulness of the God that has saved them that they will die for the honour of His name. May our God give us the courage of David, the courage of thousands of martyrs whose blood is spilled on the pages of history; the courage to “love not our lives unto death”. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world.

Written by: Prof Herman Hanko | Issue 48

Rejoicing and Weeping Together (I): Introduction

The church is family.

No, don’t think about it doctrinally, as a matter of fact. Sure, we in our heads know the church is our spiritual home. Rather, I am speaking more than matters of fact; I am writing about experience. Is family life your experience in this church?

The experience of family life is an experience of love. The brother listens; the sister understands; the elder cares.

But is your experience that the brother does not take the time to listen; that the sister does not understand what you are going through; or that the office-bearer does not seem to care about you?

Now, stop right there. Do not point the finger; turn the question around: Are you the one that does not listen, does not try to understand, and does not care?

If you answered yes, something is wrong. If we, the church, are family, we should not turn deaf ears to each other. We should listen and put ourselves in others’ shoes; we should love!

That is where our title comes in. God, who eternally loves us, teaches us how we ought to love one another in the church. God, through Paul, says, Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep (Rom. 12:15).

The text has two actions: rejoice and weep. To rejoice means to be full of cheer, joy, and gladness. For a Christian, to rejoice always means to be full of cheer, joy, and gladness in our salvation. We rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, because we believe that Jesus Christ delivered us from all our sins (1 Pet. 1:8). When we hear this good news, we are glad, as the Gentiles were in Paul’s day (Acts 13:48).

At the same time, we have earthly joys that we experience daily. They are the joys of having our physical needs met—food, shelter, clothing, transportation—and having such things in abundance. They are the joys of having a spouse and children and of having friendships in the church. Over these things, we rejoice (see Eccl. 3:12-13).

But there is weeping too. Weeping is the expression of grief, sorrow, and pain. What a stark contrast to our joy! For a Christian, weeping is always rooted in our sorrow over our spiritual depravity. Listen to the cry of Paul: O wretched man that I am! (Rom. 7:24). Or listen to the cry of the Psalmist: When I kept silence [over my sin], my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long (Ps. 32:3). Our sorrow over who we are by nature is deep, and it comes out with a loud, audible cry.

There are earthly sorrows that we experience daily. Sicknesses from flus; stresses from schools and jobs; troubles in making a living—in such events, we experience pain to some degree. We can add here, too, anything we respond to with a negative feeling. A train fault that made us late for work (again); breaking the glass jar in the kitchen; getting your hands soiled with your child’s foul-smelling poop. As insignificant as these things are, they contribute to the emotional sorrow we experience.

All of us rejoice; all of us weep. All of us have joys; all of us have sorrows. Now the calling is to rejoice together and weep together—that is, with others in the church.

To rejoice and weep together with someone means we listen to the brother or sister. What is his joy; what is her sorrow? We listen for the joy when the brother tells us. We give our fullest attention when sister breaks down in our presence. Then we try to understand the brother or sister. We picture the feeling of the brother’s joy in our minds, so that we know what makes him so happy and glad. We let the sorrow of the sister sink into our hearts, so that we know what makes her devastated. When we listen and understand, then we respond with the same joy and the same weeping. Smiling with the brother, we tell him, “Thank God; that’s great to hear!” Weeping with the sister, we gently whisper in her ear, “It is okay; cry your heart out here. I am here to cry with you”.

To rejoice and weep together is the reality of the church’s way of life.

But how often we lose that reality! When I switch off my mind as my brother shares with me about his day—there’s no listening in that! When, rather than giving him my attention, my focus is, “Oh, wait till he hears what I have to say!” I don’t even try to understand what he is going through! And when our brother is finished, we dully reply, “Oh”. Life in the church, then, is not for the brother and sister; but for me, myself, and I.

Paul, under inspiration, would not have us live that way. Through the first eleven chapters of Romans, he exhausts words to describe the love of God for us, the eternal decree of God’s election of His church, and the power of justification that lies solely in God’s grace through faith. Salvation is of God, not of ourselves!

If salvation is not of ourselves, can our lives be about me, myself, and I? Find Paul’s answer in Romans 12. Present your bodies a living sacrifice…unto God: Is that about me, myself, and I? Not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think: Anything about us? Let love be without dissimulation: What about now? The texts speak for themselves. Our salvation from God alone spells out a life that gives itself to God and His people; and a life that gives itself to God and His people is a life that loves God and His people.

And if Paul’s words are not compelling enough, listen to apostle of love, John: If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar (I John 4:20). You and I are liars if we say, “Thanks be to God!” but do not love one another in the church, much less strive to learn to love.

Again, the question is: are you the one that does not listen, does not try to understand, and does not care? Are you, am I, the one that does not love?

The calling in the church is to love. The calling is to learn the proper way to love; and that way to love is to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those that weep.

How do we do so, especially in our congregation? We have talked about listening, understanding, and responding. But more can be said. Stay tuned, D.V.

Written by: Lim Yang Zhi | Issue 47

CKCKS Camp Review: Examine Yourselves

The annual CK/CKS Camp was held from 19-22 December 2017 (Tuesday to Friday) at Aloha Loyang – Seaview Bungalow 1. The theme of the camp was “Examine Yourselves” and I thought it was something different from the themes we had for the past few years. For the past few years, we focused on learning different aspects of doctrine. But, for this year, the organizing committee decided to have a theme which was more personal and applicatory for the youths. The theme verse was 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?”. Psalter 69 was the theme song which speaks for a desire of God to search our hearts and prove that we love to walk in His ways.

This year, there were many new members who served in the camp committee and younger youths who joined us for the first time. Kuang (the camp master), Rachel, Noelene, Meryl and Given were part of the organizing committee this year. Except for Noelene, the rest of the committee served for the first time. We thank God for their willingness to serve in the committee.

The four speeches during the camp were given by Rev. Lanning and three elders. One thing that I noticed was the speakers started all of their speeches with a question. Rev. Lanning started with this question: “Am I doing/ speaking/thinking things that God requires of me?” He gave the first speech on Examine Yourselves and emphasized the importance of self- examination. The speech was especially applicable since Lord’s Supper was on the Sunday after the camp. “Where are you devoting your life towards?” Elder Lim asked with regard to the speech about Contentment. He expressed how godliness is related to contentment and our calling to be always contented. The next question, asked by Elder Lee, was “Do we walk as children of light in this world of darkness? When the people around us see us, what do they see?” He reminded us of the sharp contrast between believers and unbelievers and our calling on the third speech on the Antithesis. The fourth speech on Love for the Church was given by Elder Leong and he caused us to ponder: “Do you ever give a thought to the church of Jesus Christ?” The speech taught us how we ought to love Her and to be a lively stone of the church. I thought the four questions asked by the four speakers were very thought-provoking.

After each speech, we had a profitable time of discussion. The discussion questions were fitting to our different callings in life and to our Christian walk in this world.

Other than the speeches, we had devotions which were related to the speeches and a fun time of games and an outing. For the outing, we headed to The Cage @ Kallang to play Combat Archery and Ninja Tag. Thank God for granting us safety and protection. On the last night of the camp, the parents of the youth were invited for dinner and a night of games. Everyone enjoyed the games very much.

Overall, the camp was well-executed and edifying for all the campers. This was also the last CK/CKS camp for the Lannings (Jessica, Eric, and Emily) before they returned to Michigan. We are thankful to God for the time we had at the camp to fellowship with each other. Pray that God will continue to bless the youths as we apply the lessons learnt in the camp to our spiritual walk with God.

Written by: Nichelle Wong | Issue 47

Scripture’s Covenant Youth (X): David

In out last article in Salt Shakers, I wrote a rather general article covering David’s entire life and his importance in Scripture. We are particularly concerned with his youth.

Saul had forfeited his right to be king over God’s people because he had disobeyed God in two very important matters. He had sacrificed when God had specifically given that calling to the priests. It demonstrated that Saul cared not at all for the offices God had appointed in Israel, something for which much later, Uzziah, king if Judah, had been stricken with leprosy for this very sin. He had showed, while doing it, that he did not believe that God could deliver Israel from the Philistines.

His second sin was the sin of refusing to obey God in destroying the Amalekites. Saul saved the king alive and refused to kill the sheep that belonged to the Amalekites, even though they were all under God’s curse. Although Saul actually was deposed, Saul refused to abandon the office and apparently let everyone know that he would kill anyone who was apparently to take his place. This is clear from Samuel’s hesitation in going to Bethlehem and God’s provision for Samuel to anoint a new king when he was in Bethlehem to sacrifice for the people – as Samuel did regularly when he travelled around in Israel.

Jesse, who was of the promised line, came with his seven sons to the sacrifice and Samuel knew that the Lord would make him a king from Jesse’s sons. But as, one by one they passed before Samuel, the Lord rejected them one by one. When Samuel learned that Jesse had one more son, the very youngest and, in Jesse’s opinion, a son unfit for the position of king, David was called from the pasture where he was watching Jesse’s sheep. In spite of Jesse’s opinion, God had chosen him.

The reason why God’s choice was determinative was found in the Lord’s words to Jesse: “Look not on his countenance, or the height of his stature; because I have refused him; for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, bit the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).

There are two things of note in these words of God, truths that we do well to understand and put into practice. The first is that a person’s outward appearance means nothing to God. Israel’s pleasure in a king was because Saul was taller than all the Israelites and very strong. But that was the people’s choice, not God’s. Outward appearance means a lot to us. While unattractive people are often lonely people, we are quick to make friends with the popular and good-looking people. Even (and maybe especially) young people, in searching for a marriage partner, are quick to consider the handsome and pretty and consider a person’s worth by outward appearance. The Lord does not do that. Outward appearance means nothing to Him.

The second truth of God’s words to Jesse,which we ought to take to heart are these: “But the Lord looketh at the heart”. A godly woman, pretty or not, makes a godly wife; a pretty face does not, in itself, mean that – although some young girls can have both; but their looks mean nothing. An ugly man who loves the Lord is to be preferred as a husband and father rather than the tall, handsome and fun-loving young man who has interest only in worldly things.

And especially when one assumes an important position in the church, God looks at the heart of a person, not his outward appearance: and so ought we. God is not interested in outward appearance of any kind: wealth, oratorical or musical gifts, powerful business magnate, nor high position in government: God looks at the heart, and so must we.

James, in chapter 2 of his epistle, makes this a matter of faith. A dead faith looks at the outward appearance in a church. It fawns over and favours the rich while it despises the poor. A living faith does not do that; it looks, as God does, at the heart, for there lie the Christian virtues.

David in Psalm 119, sings: “I am a companion of them that fear thee”, meaning, of course that he is a companion of them that fear God. In every school there are those who are popular for their athletic or musical or intellectual gifts. There are others who come from poor homes and do not dress well, who have no intellectual ability nor gifts of any kind; they are isolated, ignore, despised. But that is not the criterion when we choose our companions. David says, the one criterion of important is the fear of God. The rest is of no account.

In David’s case, it was a matter of age; he was but a lad, young, of little account in the family – he could not even go to war with his brothers, only worth tending sheep in the work of the farm. How could he be king? King? The highest position in the kingdom? Yet then already God saw his heart, and saw him as a very godly young man. It is not impossible that already at that time he composed Psalm 23 and sang it on a stone in the field. It is a beloved Psalm, often the first covenant children learn when they can only lisp the words. But it is the Psalm that comes unbidden to the lips of aged people who face the last mile in their walk through the valley of death.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:

He leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul:

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:

For thou art with me: thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

It is not possible to count the many times I and one dying have recited this precious Psalm together.

Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 47

A Difficult Way

Dear readers, what first comes to your mind when you saw the title of this article: “A Difficult Way”? I am quite certain that some of you would be thinking that this article is probably going to tell you how difficult the way of being a Christian is, and perhaps give you some encouragement to help you along the way. This is quite understandable, because from an earthly point of view, living the Christian life often means that you cannot do as the world does, and you will be made to suffer for it.

For this article, I want to call your attention to the words of Proverbs 13:15, “Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors is hard”. Now read that again. The way of transgressors is hard! Not the way of the righteous? Is that shocking to you? Did I type that wrongly? Indeed, the text makes it plain that the way of the evil is the difficult way. Let us examine why this is so.

If you look around at the unbelievers in your life, you would probably find it difficult to believe that their life is hard. Perhaps even, they live lives that appear to be far more comfortable and enjoyable than yours. Think of your classmates, for example, having a day of fun at the water park, while you have to sit in church – twice! Think of your colleagues, who earn more than you do because they get paid more to work Sunday shifts, which you cannot do. The Psalmist in Psalm 73 had these thoughts too, as he envied the prosperity of the wicked, until he realized that these riches were not blessings, but “slippery places” that would culminate in the destruction of the wicked (v.18).

In addition, we are also told that the way of sinners is the way of slavery – not the way of blessing! Romans 6, in explaining our redemption by grace, also establishes that we were redeemed from being servants of sin (v.6, v.20). It therefore follows that the unrighteous, having not been redeemed unto Christ, remain the servants – or slaves – of sin and the devil. In John 8:34, Jesus tells the Jews that “whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin”, and the only way to be freed from serving sin is the truth (Jn. 8:32).

And at the end of a life of service to sin comes something even more terrible. The wages of sin is death, as we recall in Romans 6:23. And this death is not merely the end of human life, when one closes his eyes one last time. When God cursed Adam and Eve (and therefore mankind) with the punishment of death for their sin, it was not only a temporal, but also an eternal death (HC LD4, Q&A10). Revelation 21:8 outlines the terrible judgment that awaits the transgressor: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

The way of transgressors is hard indeed! What is there to envy about the life of a transgressor? A life of slavery, that ends in death, is certainly not an enviable life! Shall we then, as children of God, sin like the transgressors, that grace may abound (Rom. 6:1)?

I think not! Rather, as elect people of God, having been freed from the slavery of sin, we now live to be the servants of righteousness (Romans 6:18). This we do, not because our works of righteousness can earn us merit for our salvation – for salvation is already given, freely – but out of thankfulness to God for redeeming us unto righteousness (HC LD32, Q&A 86).

The way of transgressors is hard, but the way of obedience is blessed. According to our text, the godly, who understand the requirements of God’s law and perform their Christian duties out of both discipline and joy, are given favour. This is not favour that results in salvation, but rather, that their works of righteousness, performed after salvation has been gifted, are “accepted of God, and approved of men” (Rom. 14:18). Matthew Henry calls this favor one that makes the saint “pleasant and agreeable”.

Scripture lists many examples of the favour which our text speaks of. This was the sort of favor that Joseph obtained, when he served in Potiphar’s house (Gen. 39:6). This was the favor that David gained when he “behaved himself wisely” before the nation of Israel when he was made one of Saul’s captains (1 Sam. 18:15-16). This was also the favour that Daniel gained in the sight of his Babylonian masters (Dan. 1:9), so that when he requested not to partake of the king’s meat, his superiors were pleased to consider his request. Finally, our Lord Jesus Christ himself experienced that favour, as Luke 2:52 describes: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man”.

Our good works, performed out of obedience to God’s law, also have the effect of gaining others to Christ (HC LD32, Q&A 86). If you looked again at the examples given earlier, you would notice that in at least two instances, ungodly men – Potiphar and the Babylonians – were so impressed by the godly conduct of the Christian men under their charge. Although we do not know if they were converted themselves, we do know that it was the Christian testimony that they witnessed that led them to take a favourable attitude toward the lowly captives and slaves under their rule. If even a Babylonian – an enemy of the Israelite – could see the Israelite favourably because of his godly conduct, how much more so could those around us also be impressed by our godly conduct, and give God the glory (Matt. 5:16)!

Finally, the catechism also teaches us that obedience and the performance of good works serves to assure us of our salvation. Q&A 86 draws reference to 2 Peter 1:10 “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” What assurance and blessing! Beloved brethren, why would you choose the difficult way? Choose the way of obedience, for it is the easy way. “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30).

Written by: Daniel Tang | Issue 46